Sunday, August 5, 2012
Dear New Teacher
So, Mama brought to me the idea of making this blog post. I loved it right away. Every year since Kindergarten I have gone in and talked to the teacher on the Meet The Teacher night before school starts. Every year I have tried desperately to quickly sum up for them who my child was as they were busy watching the other people float around their room smiling and nodding. When I told my husband about the upcoming blog post he said, Isn't the principal suppose to do that? o.O I am not one to let whatever they have to say about my son be the be all end all on the matter.
I currently do not know who Tyler's new teacher will be. We do not start school here until the end of the month. I have my fingers crossed as to who it will be. I have worked with one of them in the past in an enrichment class that included Tyler. I like the idea of already having a foot in the door. This is my letter:
Dear New Teacher,
I wanted to take a few moments to touch base with you. To fill you in on who my son is. I know you will have been told that he has autism, and handed his IEP. I think I could do you a bit more of a service than that though. On top of that I want to ensure that you and I have and keep a good open line of communication. It will be vital to Tyler's success. One teacher in the past had told me that if I did not understand something that was going on that I needed to talk to Tyler about it and have him explain things. Tyler cannot do that. On one hand his memory does not allow for it, and on the other hand is his inability to properly describe things. There is also the ginormous barrier of his perception. Tyler is the last person you want to explain anything, because what he thinks will be very far removed from what you expected him to say. Case point: When asked why a teacher changed his system that we had been using for most of the school year Tyler said; because the other way was too easy for him to earn a lunch with her and she didn't want to eat with him. I do not believe for a second that the teacher told him she didn't want to eat lunch with him. However, this is what happens when you leave it to Tyler to explain things. You and I will need each other this year. I want to help you get the most out of him, and I want him to be happy in your classroom.
I have done lots of experimenting with Tyler this summer. I wanted to find things that could help you get the most out of him, and help him hopefully be a little less of a disturbance. Tyler is very easily distracted. Little noises (such as the clock ticking), people talking, watching someone do something, and then his own thoughts. Tyler would benefit from sitting by as few other students as possible, and the closer to you the better. Tyler has a very hard time with other kids. His day to day life very easily becomes about his hardships with his classmates. When taking small tests Tyler will greatly benefit from sitting somewhere where he can't see anyone. Tyler is a wanderer. He moves around the room a lot at random. I know this can be very disruptive to class flow. To help you combat against this I have purchased a weighted lap pad to leave in your classroom for him. Also, I will supply you with some wax earplugs. I have found that Tyler talks softer when using them as well as talking less, he doesn't seem to move as much, and his attention lasts longer. Using these wax earplugs or a pair of headphones should greatly cut down on his talking out. I would not let him take them out of the classroom though as he would be highly likely to lose them. Music class might be a good exception to that rule though. Sadly, I do not have a cure all for the talking at inappropriate times thing, but some of these things may help reduce the frequency of the blurting out.
Tyler needs very clearly defined instructions. You cannot just tell him to write you a story, and expect something fully involved from him. If you just tell him to write something, he will write you three sentences and call it a day. You can't even just say I want three paragraphs. You'd have to say how many sentences you want in those paragraphs. Last year they went as far as telling him how many words he had to use per sentence. And these things have to be defined each time. He needs to be given a subject, but please avoid things like "how you feel". Tyler get's very thrown off by these things and panics. These things apply also to written instructions. He will do his work based on how he interprets them. I received many papers home last year that I was suppose to help him correct that he would refuse to correct, because his answers were correct by the definitions of the instructions. A prime example of this is: when given a science paper that had a huge chart on one side filled with information, and then asked what could you learn from this chart? He answered with "Lots of stuff". When asked on that same paper what the difference between a liquid and a gas was he answered "You can't eat a gas". He answered several more questions in the same kind of fashion. The teacher had written on all of them "this is not an answer". But they were answers, and they were all true to the questions at hand. What was wanted was for him to USE the chart. Now was too late to define that because he had already answered the questions and made his perceptions about the paper. Once he has his perception it is very hard to work around it. However, if the question had been to name one thing you learned from the chart or use the chart to tell the difference between a liquid and a gas...his answers may have been more desirable.
Also in regards to being clear with instructions, it needs to be across the board. You just have to be clear with him ALL the time. Tyler does not understand joking around or sarcasm or what it has to do with the price of tea in China. After he gets to know someone he can get that they don't mean what they say, but he still won't understand what they are trying to say. He also has a hard time with words meaning more than one thing, and he doesn't get that saying things in a certain tone changes the meaning of the words. He gets confused by things like two to and too or words like read that can be said two different ways with two different meanings. He also has a delay between what he hears and what he does. So, if he is doing something and you say "now do this" there could be a few moments pause. Repeating yourself agitates him, if you do it too quickly. He also prefers to see vs hear.
Tyler no longer likes AR testing since he has read all of the short and to the point AR fact books. Tyler does not enjoy reading about imaginary things and when testing on stories in class (or AR) about such books he will not be able to recall the details about the book. Last year they did a book in class about a mouse and a motorcycle. Tyler remembered virtually nothing about it. He had no idea who the Aunt was or why she thought she was better than everyone else let alone understand the concept of being "stuck up". Tyler likes his reading to have a point and to get to it quickly. He gets lost in the filler stuff in books. It's easy for Tyler to see that a mouse riding a motorcycle isn't real, but when reading about people doing imaginary things the line becomes blurred for Tyler. He has on occasions come to me and asked if such things were possible, and when told no he would then say to himself; "Of course not, I just need to remind myself when reading it that it's not true". If AR testing is to be required I will need to know about that so I can stay after school with him and work together on it in the library. If you do any kind of book reading and testing in class you can expect to have some difficulty.
Tyler is also a creature of habit. Things are made quite difficult when they are not always the same. Every day Tyler comes home from school, sits down with a snack, and does his homework. However, the homework needs to be consistent and short. He can very easily handle one page of math homework on Monday's but when it becomes the front and back of one page he starts freaking out. Any more than the front and back of a paper, and he can't handle it. He has been in school all day doing these type of things. He expects to be able to come home and unwind from it, not do more of it. So either homework needs to be consistent (same homework on the same days) and short or perhaps give me all of the weeks homework on Monday's and let him turn them back in on the following Monday in exchange for the new homework. Tyler goes in for therapy every Wednesday directly after school. We do not get home until 6pm shower is at 7pm and he has to be in bed at 8pm. Between 6 and 7pm on Wednesday's we still have to eat and find some time for him to delve into his obsessions to relieve built up pressure from the day. He has to be in bed at 8pm otherwise there will be a very unhappy Tyler in the morning. I cannot offer anything by way of homework on Wednesday's.
A note in regards of Tyler personally... It helps to think of Tyler much the same as a balloon. Things happen, minor things, all the time that he doesn't like or understand. When these things happen it's like a balloon collecting a static charge. These things are rubbing him the wrong way, and they are building over time to a disastrous proportion. Tyler is unlikely to have a meltdown at school unless a singular catastrophic event occurs. So far, this has only happened once. Tyler doesn't care for being touched much unless he starts it. Tyler is very huggy, and can over touch others. He has two off limit areas. He does not like to be touched on the back of the neck or the shoulders. He doesn't like people pulling on his clothes. He doesn't like kids touching him period. That is something that quickly builds up. He doesn't like loud noises such as the school bell, loud voices whether they are directed at him or not as well as certain tones of voice, fire/tornado drill sirens, and thunder. Signs of stress in Tyler include him pushing on his forehead with his fingers, running his fingers through his hair and tugging on it, talking to himself, wandering, looking away, and picking at himself. Things that could be used to give him a few minutes of relief: you could send him to get a drink from the water fountain (he loves them and feels compelled to drink out of them whenever he is near one), send him to run an errand, or let him call me. Some teachers have let Tyler call me when ever he asks to do so, others have told him no. I can tell you though, I can help you avoid problems by talking to him for a minute on the phone.
I would recommend a weekly email letting me know what's going on in class, things you guys are working on, homework assignments, how Tyler is doing, what I should be finding in his backpack, letting me know if you need anything from me, and other such things. Just because things are sent home with Tyler doesn't mean I will ever see them. He loses things or forgets about them, but if I have knowledge outside of him that I can take to him it clears things up quickly. Aside from that, I eat lunch with Tyler every Friday, I'm the grade coordinator, you can text me, call me, email me or talk to me in the afternoon at pick up time.... I am fully available to help you with anything you need to make him more manageable in your classroom. I look forward to working with you this year. I hope that together we can help Tyler succeed.
I will also CC this to the counselor so that if need be any of the things that I have mentioned that are not in Tyler's IEP can either be added in without a new meeting or a new meeting called to add them. Last year our IEP meeting was cut short so they could get back to someone else's IEP meeting that wasn't finished when mine started. The things that I have mentioned that are not in his IEP are still things that have been talked about in past meetings, and that I have practiced this summer on Tyler and found useful results.