Literally. It sucks the joy, the wonder, the learning out of the day. Science backs me up on that: when we are in a state of high anxiety, our thinking brain—our frontal cortex—seems to go offline and our emotional brain, or limbic system, takes over.
Anxiety causes stress hormones to course through our body as we move into fight, flight, or freeze mode. We behave in ways that help us cope with the terrible discomfort caused by phantom fear. ‘Phantom’ because anxiety is fear in the absence of real danger. We go into lockdown—we lash out, shut down, or slow down.Children with ASD are often anxious. Depending where you look for statistics, anywhere from 40% to over 80%% of autistic children are suffering with anxiety. Of course they are: who can feel calm in a world whose expectations are poorly aligned with their ability to cope and be successful?
This page was established to write about the realities of those with ASD Level 1/ Asperger’s syndrome. These are children with average to superior intelligence who are more than capable of handling academic curriculums. Here’s the problem, though:
Our schools have no idea how to teach autistic children. They make every accommodation feel like a great big exceptional deal. They provide the supports and accommodations sporadically or not at all, and so few teachers actually understand the autistic learner that parents hold their breath every day, waiting for that call to come and get the child because the staff cannot support him/her.
I don't get it.
It is really so simple to support autistic children. Here’s what good educators already know, and the rest of them need to grasp:
• Autism is not a mental illness or a mental defect. It is a unique way of learning.
• When the autistic student trusts you, magic can happen. On the other hand, they can sense when you don't like the, don't respect them, or don't expect much of them.
• To figure out how each autistic child learns, you must provide a psycho-educational assessment. Without it, you’re guessing—and judging by the dauntingly high rates of school avoidance and anxiety in autism, you’re guessing wrong.
• Autism is a unique way of experiencing the phyisical/ sensory world. Up to 90% of those with ASD have sensory and/or motor differences that are the cause of, or are contributing to, their emotional response or behavioural responses. Without a comprehensive sensory/ motor assessment, once again, if you are trying to the child out, you’re guessing. This is not a sidebar to autism. It is not an addendum. It is an essential aspect of being autistic. Identify the child’s sensory profile, and then provide environments that help the child to feel safe and calm.
• People with ASD can be very smart, but we are not known for working fast. In fact, we may do half the work in twice the time—especially in areas that are neither fun nor engaging. It is critical to match the volume of work with the child’s processing speed. No need to reduce academic expectations—just the amount of work needed for the child to demonstrate that they ‘get it’.
• Gym class in general and team sports in particular are torture for many of our kids. Sure—some of our kids may excel in these areas, but the overwhelming majority really struggle to understand what their teammates expect of them in the moment. During games, loud, rambunctious kids holler instructions and advice from all directions. Often, our kids mess up, and a gaggle of classmates express their disappointment and dismay loudly. A typical child may be able to tolerate this. Not so much for our autistic learner.
• The way you correct autistic children can elevate or destroy them. They do not like to be corrected, redirected, or told they need to do their work again. When they don’t understand, they cannot ask for help. If you see them struggling and you point out their errors, anxiety spikes and learning often cannot take place. Errorless teaching methods are critical and essential for these students.
• High functioning is not low needs. Scratch functioning labels and just address the individual strengths and needs of each child.
• Autism is a social communication disorder. These children must be taught the social understanding that typical kids just seem to pick up naturally. If you dont teach them, they may not learn, and will continue to struggle with friendships and social situations. Teach them what they need to know instead of catching them not knowing and then shaming them for it.
• Many of our autistic children are teased or bullied—in fact, they are bullied at four times the rate of their typical peers. I am tired of educators claiming the child is mistaken—that no bullying is going on—because studies show the differential between teacher reported bullying and student reported bullying is almost 50%! Typical children are smart enough not to bully our kids
in front of adults. Teachers and support staff: plesse keep your eyes open to help protect these vulnerable students. Bullied students are prone to anxiety and depression that can last a lifetime.
When families ask me where they should start when they are trying to help their autistic child, I always look to anxiety: figure out what is causing it and for goodness sake —get rid of it. Every child deserves to wake up each day with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Instead, too many of our children awaken each day with a sense of dread, fear, and resignation.
Your child deserves to feel joy. Your children deserve to be taught based on their learning profile, in an environment where they feel safe, by teachers who know what it means to be an autistic learner. There’s not really room for compromise on this. If you traumatize our children by failing to address any of these areas, you are setting them up for a lifetime of anxiety.
And that sucks.