Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Autistic student: Reeling them in for homework

Staying on task is hard for many of our spectrum students. It's even harder when the topic at hand isn't their main interest or an interest at all. There's a lot of redirection involved, especially at first and early in the year. It's frustrating, mentally taxing and can leave you drained. It can still pay off, though, so it's important to never give up.

The first problem we face is the time of year. It's only the beginning of the school year so this is a change in routine. It's not a small change either. There are many expectations that just weren't there for the summer. Try as you might, even with some extra activities and camp, you just can't recreate those expectations (on your own anyway) during off-school months. So this will be a period of adjustment with new routines. Thankfully, we have been blessed this year with good mornings in the way of getting up and getting dressed without fits. And now he's learning to make his own breakfast (cheers!). So, as years go by, improvements are quite possible.

The second is making the switching of tasks through the day part of his routine. It's all routines inside of each other and he balks at them. My son has had difficulty calming down for class in the mornings, (no doubt because of all the sensory input from excitement and hustle bustle) and has had to leave class a few times to recalibrate. I will say his teachers are on the ball with him. We are blessed to have such proactive teachers this year. But for all of our kids, we have to remember this goes hand in hand with number three.

The third is major sensory input. Crowds of children are loud and noisy. Hallways echo, and there's constantly someone bumping into you. At some ages, our kids are starting to put on deodorants and colognes and our sensitive kids will smell this at a distance. Kids with hygiene problems will be there as well and add to the mix with smells of their own. Not all of them will be triggers, but some will be and likely have been for some time. And let's not forget temperatures, those can have drastic effect too. Especially heat as it increases irritability.

Now I get to homework. It's another area of routine that we know our kids hate. It's more school after the school day has let out. What kids wants that? Well, it's a fact of life and they have to do it. For us, toward the end of the day, my son is more embroiled in fantasy from holding back all day (or being steered back to reality all day) and he just wants to play. Bringing him in from fantasy to get started on that homework is kind of like reeling in a really big fish. It's a fight for a bit, but once he's in the boat it gets easier.

The next issue in homework is getting overwhelmed and giving up repeatedly. He still has to learn to slow down and take his homework or any problem a bit at a time. He wants to rush, skip steps and be done. This is pretty common of our spectrum kids. It's especially common with Asperger's or ADHD kids. You get the idea. Ours may throw a fit and close down. We give him a break, but he can't go back to play or have privileges until he does that homework. So, piece by piece it gets done. It can be tedious and tiring for everyone involved too.

Handwriting is still a vexing issue too. It's like having something to concentrate on inside of everything else. My son is working on it, but it takes as much redirection and do-overs as anything else. Sometimes, by the time he has to rewrite something, he's forgotten the what the problem was and has to rethink it too. That's frustrating for him. I'm sure it's the same for many of our kids. Think about it, how much can your brain juggle?

It's easy to feel like this will never improve, but the truth is, that it can. If he's able to keep trying over and over again, then he may and likely will improve. That's not a guarantee of course. But, look back over your child's school history and make it appoint to notice the improvements. Has your child improved while moving up in grades? Then there's distinct hope. Has he improved despite lack of support or in the face of other difficulties? Then there's major hope.

So here's to moving on in a new school year (or getting started for many of you). Keep your chin up and never give up.

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