If you have an autistic child you will know that often their inability to complete a task is not because they have an inability to complete the task. They could do the task if only it was made accessible.
There is a solution though and it is a simple one – time.
I’m going to look at one example in this post and what it means, admittedly anecdotal but hopefully an example many can relate to. I think it strikes at the heart of what we face in trying to help our children achieve their potential and not be left to flounder.
Not Quite Ted Hughes
My son had to write a letter for his homework – he came up with this.
10, 4135, 917376, 3311,10,173,23133142,9001. 33,761,1, 7153,10, 91736. 7103, 41147.
I’m his Dad and even I can admit it looks like a crap letter.
Except it isn’t. It’s a mediocre letter but, more importantly, it’s a sign of intelligence, resilience, lateral thinking and creativity. I’ll explain why after a brief detour.
A lot of, maybe most, autistic children have a whole soup of other accompanying neurological complexities, the autism itself is often not the thing that is preventing them from engaging with a task.
Our son has high, through the roof at times, anxiety. At times it gets to the stage where seemingly the most random of things can be fear inducing, the other day it was letters and words.
He couldn’t bring himself to write the word dear because in his mind it made a link to reindeer and this to Christmas, a stressful time for him.
Other words had similar issues and then letters too, the look of some letters, what associations his mind made with others.
As parents you try everything, striking that balance between trying to get the child to engage with schoolwork whilst also being desperate to not add to their anxiety.
We tried tweaking the task, as Christmas induces stress, the task could be writing a letter about what he had done that weekend. We suggested other words – to instead of dear, Grandma instead of aunt (aunt contains ants and I don’t like ants…). Then we suggested typing rather than writing, then that he could dictate it and we would type.
Nothing was working. There was that unexpressed frustration where you know the work is well within capabilities. The barrier isn’t intelligence, it is the bi-product of the build-up of stress and anxiety, all built up from a week in school and a world where everything is too full on.
Patience Pays Off
With enough time, though, there is always a solution. This time, after a few minutes not focusing on the task, the solution came from our son, he said ‘how about I write a letter in code, using numbers.’
And so he did, and he produced the numbers at the start of this post.
And then he also produced a key, writing out the number again and the words they meant, when minutes earlier those same words had been the barrier. The anxiety had gone.
I don’t profess to know how his brain, or the brain of anyone else – autistic or not works. I don’t know how typical my son is of others.
What I do know is that children like him – and maybe your child – need time if they are to flourish. They need almost every task to be made bespoke and that how it needs to be made bespoke will vary – you can’t simply make it about a favourite topic and that will be enough.
Money Well Spent? I’d Say So
This time is expensive. It means more support at school, one-to-one help much of the time, quiet places to work in, a level of care that is impossible to provide without extra funding and extra funding beyond normal extra funding.
Whether that funding will come, I don’t know – and I mean for all children who require it in future, not just my son.
I suspect it won’t. I suspect there will be a bit of funding, a lot of belt tightening by authorities and a lot of pupils who could flourish floundering because the one thing they really need – time and support is not available.
And, you know what, we’ll all be the poorer for it in the long run as people with great potential never reach achieve what they might and they, and society, are the poorer for it.
10 46377 4135
917376 3311 10 173 23133142 9001 03 54765847.
33 761 1 7153 10 917376 24164 1 304 4541457 444
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