School has been underway for a while now – we have just finished the second quarter here in Utah. The best laid plans from back at the beginning of the school year aren’t always working out for the best. Let’s look at some recent questions.
Some kind of fidget can be very helpful in the classroom for many ASD students. Fidgets can be a socially acceptable form of stimming, or an alternative to a negative habit such as hair-pulling or picking at sores. A fidget can also be used to try to stay centered or calm. Whatever the role of your child’s fidget, we need it to be seen as a therapeutic tool that will reduce behavior or attentional problems rather than as a toy that will increase distraction. That likely means that it will need to be a part of your child’s 504 or IEP. If needed, ask your child’s therapist or doctor to write a letter to the school about this, or ask for the school district’s autism specialist to consult with the IEP team to get this approved.
This is a common difficulty with ASD children, who often don’t know how to answer this question or would prefer not to, due to either needing some quiet down time or due to eagerness to get on to their own pursuits. Due to poor perspective taking skills, they may not understand well why a parent would bother to ask them this question day after day! One way to work on this is to build it into the routine of the day. So the discussion might be held on the way home in the car, or during snack time upon arriving home, or at dinner time when everyone has gathered. Then, have a concrete way of structuring the question such as everyone at the dinner table takes a turn with sharing a high/good point and a low/bad point from their day. Another alternative is to take turns in the car sharing two or three specific events from the day. A third way to structure it is to go through the day – such as something about the morning, about lunch, and about the afternoon. Remember that difficulty building this type of narrative is part of having an ASD, so be kind and patient. Also reinforce this — that is, if your child resists because to her it is boring to review her day, make sure to let her know how much you enjoy hearing about it. Express your gratitude rather than take this sharing for granted.
I have known some children to be allowed to have a “bored folder” that can be taken out when their regular work is completed. Some children might need the teacher to keep this for them, and only allow them to have it once their regular work has been completed to a satisfactory degree. In their folder they could keep projects that they enjoy working on, such as drawings, or sudoku or a story they are working on. Getting to work in their folder can also then be reward for completing work that is not so interesting to them. The same thing can be done with a free reading book, but as above, this might need to be kept by the teacher until the regular work is completed.
I have seen some great creative projects done by parents to address this issue. My favorite is a one page handout, with a cute picture of your child on it for the teacher(s). Add to it some of the strengths that your child has and his special interests. Then, if you know of some common behavioral problems, list a few of the best solutions (such as, when Alex begins to get loud, remind him to use his indoor voice, and to take a few deep breaths). Include your phone number and email, and encourage early communication about any problem area, indicating your willingness to help.
Barbara Lester is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Barbara specializes in working with children and adolescents on the autism spectrum and their families, providing parenting classes, social skills groups, along with individual and family therapy. She has over twenty-five years of experience providing psychotherapy. Visit Barbara at Autism Spectrum Help.