If You Know One Autistic Person…

G’s school had a spring concert, where each grade sang 3 or 4 songs.  The music teacher asked for volunteers for each grade to sit with them in a classroom until it was their turn to go on, to walk them on and off stage, and generally attempt to keep order.  I always try to volunteer for these kinds of things so that I can help keep an eye on G, since he has trouble with unstructured times.  I drafted DH to come along and help me out.

The time before the kindergartners went on stage was pure chaos.  The first graders were also in the same room and the noise level was very high.  The volunteers and teachers present would get the kids to quiet down for only a few seconds before it got loud again.  There was a video going in the front of the room but the kids ignored it in favor of acting like monkeys on speed.

Instead of trying to keep order from the front of the group, I decided to sit in the midst of the kids so I could be next to G.  I was able to catch his hand whenever he started to hit, keep him focused and from getting out of control.  He was sitting next to some kids he knew from the morning movement break the school organizes which made me suspect some of them were on the spectrum or had other issues that make movement breaks helpful.  One boy was holding on to a tiny flashlight like a talisman and was getting visibly upset.  I asked if he was doing ok and he told me it was too loud.  So I asked if he wanted me to cover his ears, as this is something that helps my G.  He nodded tearily and climbed into my lap while I pressed my hands to his ears.  After a few minutes he was calm again, climbed out of my lap and asked me to fix his flashlight as the lightbulb was loose.

Then the kindergartners needed to line up to get on stage.  I was in the back of the line with G and another little boy, Q, who I know for sure is on the spectrum.  He and G go to the speech therapist together and their particular sensitivities often conflict.  With all the noise, they were both getting edgy and starting to fight with each other, so I sent G up to the front of the line where DH was stationed because Q wouldn’t let me lead him away.  I realized Q wanted to stay in the back of the line where he could flick the light switch on and off which was disruptive to the remaining 1st graders, causing them to shriek every time.  I was able to distract him for a few minutes at a time before he went back to the switch.  Another parent came up and stood in front of the light switch which upset the boy and he started pushing at her body and pulling at her clothes.  She looked at me in a commiserating way like he was just being a brat but I ignored her.  With G, I might quickly explain about autism but this wasn’t my child so it wasn’t my place to ‘out’ him.  I finally got him to hold my hand and stand away from the switch. 

He started flicking at the ends of my hair so I bent my head to make my hair more accessible.  Then he started pulling at it – hard.  I got him to hold my hand again and tried to lead him out into the hallway where the other children had moved but he dug in his heels and started yelling for me to stop touching him.  I let go immediately and crouched down to try speaking softly and soothingly but it was so darn loud in the room that it was impossible.  I really felt like I was on the edge of losing control of the situation and felt like I was just making this boy feel worse instead of helping him.  Finally, the kindergarten line started moving down the hallway to go on stage and Q followed along without any direction from me. 

I felt, and still feel, bad about the situation.  I had the best intentions but I’m not sure how much I helped or how much I hurt.  I made absolutely sure not to physically direct the boy the way I might direct my G by holding his shoulders and guiding him from the room, as I felt this would be inappropriate with a child other than my own.  But I didn’t know this boy’s tricks and triggers so I was ineffective in keeping him calm.  For example, maybe I should have tried to coax Q into an empty classroom where he could flick the switch as much as he needed.  I realize now that because I read so many books and blogs, I erroneously thought I knew what I was doing.  It makes me much more sympathetic to the special ed team G works with.  It must be so hard to learn each child’s idiosyncrasies each year!  Because the cliche is true – if you know one person with autism, you only know one person with autism.

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Published in: on May 23, 2009 at 4:59 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Drop the shoulds, darling! At least you were trying to help. That’s a really difficult environment for our kids, and I always hated that the teachers would just leave my son up their to fall apart in front of a judgmental audience. Thank goodness for middle school — no more school concerts for us!

  2. You did a great job! At least you were compassionate and understanding. I think the majority of parents would have written him off as a brat from the beginning and not even tried to help.

    These are times when I think being a parent of a child on the spectrum makes us better parents!….more patient and more likely to look into things instead of assuming.

    Good job!
    🙂

  3. We adopted three boys with various forms of autism and appreciate those who would blog on such an important subject. People more than ever need to be informed about autism and what life is like for those so affected since this debilitating condition seems to be on the rise.


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