What came out in this conversation were pieces of a puzzle that between the three of us, we were able to begin putting together.
I’ll give you a couple examples of what we figured out.
Elliott says he gets singled out in front of the class. It’s embarrassing and he feels humiliated. What seems to have actually happened was that his teacher pulled him aside, and while it was physically located at the front of the classroom, it was while the rest of the class was doing something else and no one knew what they were talking about.
As we began going through these situations, a pattern developed.
Another situation involved Elliott being confronted in front of his class about whether or not he took his medication that morning. Again, he was embarrassed and felt humiliated. Once again, what Elliott says happened, physically happened however, it’s not that simple.
Elliott had been sitting and not eating his lunch. His teacher was concerned that he wasn’t eating and she pulled him aside and asked if something was wrong. Elliott said he wasn’t hungry. We had just had a conversation with his teachers about how his meds impact his appetite. She simply asked him if he wasn’t hungry because of his meds or if something else was wrong. That was it.
Once again, he was correct that he had been questioned about his meds. That physically happened but it was out of concern and not in a way that anyone else in his class could have overheard.
It became clear that what seems to be happening involves issues with perception and social cues.
Elliott’s not wrong. These things are physically happening but at the same time, they aren’t meant to be interpreted the way he’s interpreting them.
That ladies and gentlemen, seems to be the underlying issue here.
This seems to stem from an inability to accurately read social cues. That stems from being on the Autism Spectrum. This is a very difficult situation to work with because his feelings are genuine and he’s not wrong about what is physically taking place. At the same time, his ability to accurately perceive the situation as a whole is significantly compromised. This is a common theme amongst people on the Autism Spectrum and certainly isn’t isolated to him.
How we go about addressing this, is a bit unknown at this point. This is going to be something that needs to be dealt with in a therapeutic environment and require lots of practice.
There are some immediate things were going to implement within the classroom that will hopefully help in the interim.
From now on, if the teachers need to discuss something with him, they will step outside into the hallway to do so. She may also stop by his desk and ask him to stop by her desk when he has a minute. This way he’s not feeling like he’s being singled out in front of the whole class. One of the other things that Elliott has been struggling with is, he doesn’t understand that while the class as a whole may be getting yelled at or corrected, that doesn’t mean he is doing anything wrong.
Three kids may be acting up and they end up getting yelled at. They are typically sitting behind him and in his head, he’s getting yelled at because she’s looking in his direction when raising her voice to address the problem kids.
To address this, his teachers are going to periodically reinforce his good behavior by letting him know he’s going a good job. Sometimes if the entire class is in trouble over the actions of a few, his teachers will quietly let him know that while the whole class is being punished, they know he wasn’t one of the kids doing anything wrong. Sometimes the class gets punished as a whole. That’s just the way it is.
To be completely honest with you, this is going to be challenging on a number of levels. We brought this up tonight in the boys therapy session.
We’re going to be working on a plan to help him more accurately interpret what’s going on around him. Frankly, this will likely be a life long challenge and he will have to learn to adapt the best he can. Our job is to help him in any way we possibly can. This will probably require some outside of the box thinking, a whole lot of practice and smidgen of patience.
This is difficult for me personally because I live in a house where everyone around me struggles with this same issue and it’s overwhelming. I’m the odd man out in the house that Autism built. I’ve learned to somewhat compensate for this automatically and I don’t always think about it. It doesn’t always occur to me that this is what’s going on at school until I listen to the other side of the story.
Elliott isn’t lying about what’s happening. The events are physically taking place exactly as he retells it, especially if you’re thinking literally, like kids on the Autism Spectrum tend to do. The difference is how he’s perceiving the meaning of the events and intentions of his teachers. Again, it goes back to navigating social situations.
The best way I can explain this involves a couple situations with Emmett, who very much struggles with the same thing.
If I tell Emmett that I’ll done in a minute, he’ll literally count sixty seconds and want to know why I’m done. I didn’t mean one minute literally. I meant I’ll be done shortly, soon or even in a few minutes. That’s not how he takes though because he thinks literally.
Here’s a final example, again with Emmett. I’ll take Emmett to the grocery under the guise that we are picking up three items. I need to get milk, oatmeal and yogurt. I put a gallon of milk in the cart, along with a container of oatmeal and I make my way to the yogurt. When it comes to the yogurt however, I need three containers.
Emmett will begin to unravel because I’ve now put five items total in the cart and I had told him it would only be three. In my mind and probably others as well, I only picked up three items. I just need more than one container of yogurt. It didn’t take more time, cause any delay in anything and I certainly didn’t lie to him. That’s not how he perceives the situation and perception is reality.
If I haven’t mentioned already how fricking exhausting being an Autism parent is, hear me now. Being an Autism parent is absolutely the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.
The verbal gymnastics alone………