Helping Your Kid Out of Autism — The Preschool Post

– Posted in: Autism -- The Handbook, Autism Recovery, Newt, Newt's Story, Parenting, Personal Insanity, School, Solicited Advice, Worrying

More tales from the autism front. Today’s questions come from the mother of “Tara,” a 3-and-a-half year old who was just diagnosed. Keep in mind that I’ve never met these people, so I’m basically just relaying what we did in these same situations. Our son, Newt, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the same age and has since tested off the spectrum. He’s ten now.

Tara will apparently start developmental preschool after spring break with a low number of kids, but most of them seem “pretty severe” and the teacher is young. Her mom has her doubts about the program. She wanted to know whether Newt had an aide.

Newt, age 3, coming out of school.

Newt, age 3, coming out of school.

Newt never had an aide and was in a “reverse inclusion” or “reverse mainstreaming” class. It’s where typical kids are put into a special needs classroom to help model behavior. Elfie, Newt’s little sister, was actually asked to join the class for his second year. I’ve always said she was his best teacher, so it was fitting that she went on to teach other kids.

Frankly, I don’t get putting only special needs kids together in a class. Especially autistic kids. One of the biggest hurdles with autism is interacting with people and learning social norms. If you’re in an environment with other people who have trouble with that, well…

And just to go off on a quick tangent — this is also why I can’t stand iPads, computers, and TV for autistic kids. There’s a big push to “help” them with iPad programs because they do “so well” on them. Wow! What a frickin’ surprise. My son could operate a mouse when he was 18 months old. He had an amazing “attention span” and could watch TV or work on a computer game until his eyes fell out. Did that help him figure out how to play pirates or understand if I was pissed? Not so much.

And here’s my theory on aides: while I think it’s important to have extra help in a classroom if you have an autistic child trying to mainstream into it (because I love teachers and my teacher friends who’ve had difficult kids in their classes deserve the extra help), I’d be very wary of what your aide is doing. Standing back and letting the kid do her own thing and learn to feel her way through the world — even if that means getting verbally smacked down by another kid — is important. Having an adult at her shoulder, “suggesting” what to do at every turn and intervening in every interaction is a great way to make a child never, ever understand kid world.

Clearly — clearly — I’m not talking about a severely autistic child. I’m talking about a high-functioning, “gets peeved when things don’t go her way,” “needs a whole lot of work getting used to the world” kind of kid.

So while I think Tara should give the preschool a shot, I’d keep a close eye on it. She’s also attending an additional preschool somewhere else, and it sounds like it’s going okay. Her mom says some of the kids are trying to interact with her, but it’s a little rough going because she doesn’t have very much language yet. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about that.

Kids are amazing when it comes to communicating with other kids, just through play. They don’t need to have long conversations or tell detailed narratives in order to get things going. They just go. The simple act of being around the other kids is priceless for her right now. And at this age, they may know something is a a little off, but they most likely won’t care.

And the other great thing about kids? They have an incredibly high tolerance for doing things over and over. And over. That’s opposed to adults who, as much as we’d like to say we’re patient and understanding, want to go screaming from the room when we have to play the “Isn’t that funny how I jumped up from behind the couch” game one more time. Kids? They’ll laugh at the same joke 20 times.

So truth be told, you’ll have a lot more trouble with parents than you will with their kids…

My advice on that? Don’t say too much. Try to be chill. If they ask about her not talking, or not being potting trained, or whatever people pick on, say, “Yeah, she’s a late {fill in the blank}. We’re working on it.” And if they persist: “She really does stuff on her own timetable. We’ve found that we just need to leave her alone and let her do her thing. Kids learn things at different times. Some children learn to read in preschool, and some don’t until 3rd grade.”

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always: “We’re just not the helicopter, hyper-aggressive parenting types. You know, the kind who are always looking at other people’s kids and comparing them to theres to make themselves feel better…” (even though the fact is that you’re pretty stressed out and compare your kid to other kids all the time because you can’t help it — but they don’t have to know that).

And if that doesn’t work? Well, hell, you’re probably at a school with a bunch of uptight conservatives. So all I can say is, get out of Dodge as fast as you can. Either that or put an Obama sticker on your car, and then they’ll just stop talking to you (it’s worked for me many times).

So next time? Potty training. And possibly how to handle crying your eyes out every night. As if it’s actually possible to handle something like that…

2 Comments… add one

Kathy March 25, 2013, 2:18 pm

Sounds like rational and sound advice – excellent piece. I agree that separating handicapped kids is helpful to the system perhaps, but I fear that in many cases not to the child.

Tammy May 5, 2013, 5:54 pm

Thanks Kath! I think there are probably a lot of factors that go into the reverse mainstreaming thing, but it definitely seemed good for us.

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