Wednesday, September 30, 2009

a visit to Grade 6-E

Yesterday I had the privilege of giving a little talk to Allison's class about Asperger Syndrome. Although Allison seems very happy at her new school for the most part, there have been some incidents of her getting very upset over some sort of misunderstanding or unexpected situation. Her teacher has been very helpful and communicative, but I was feeling concerned that these episodes might cause Allison's classmates to distance themselves from her.

As it happened, yesterday Allison had a dentist appointment that would require her to leave school 1/2 an hour early, so Rich went with her to the appointment and I took the opportunity to visit her class (having cleared it with the teacher, of course). I explained a little about Asperger's being in the autism "family" and about some of the strengths people with Asperger's often display; and then I talked about challenges like friendship skills, handling emotions, and difficulty with social rules. Although there were a few kids who seemed less interested, most listened intently and offered good comments and questions. One girl commented on how good Allison is in math. Another said that she had asked Allison what she was reading and Allison said, "You don't need to know"; so we talked about how that might have made the other girl feel bad, and what she might have said in response. Then another girl said, "I actually heard that happen so I told Allison that I'd read that book too and it was funny, and she smiled."

I also asked them how they could be good classmates or friends, and they had many good ideas like "ask her to play" or "ask how her day was" or "put yourself in Allison's shoes." I also mentioned that Allison likes to find her brother at recess and play basketball with him and his EA, "Mr. O", and I suggested that a classmate might want to join her sometimes. And in fact, Mr. O told me today that at morning recess a couple of Allison's classmates did join her for basketball, and they all played together.

Allison's teacher also got quite involved in the classroom discussion, reading some sections from a book on Asperger Syndrome, commending the class on times that they had supported Allison in the classroom, and urging them not to bombard her with attention in a phony way but just to do what came naturally to them. So it was a great half hour of sharing and raising awareness. I enjoyed looking out at all these earnest little faces and seeing how different and interesting all of the kids are.

I realize that there is probably something of an ethical dilemma involved in talking to the class about this without Allison's knowledge; in fact, one of her classmates asked if Allison knew I was coming in to talk to them. But we really felt that doing it without her knowledge was better than not doing it at all, and I knew that she would probably become upset at the suggestion. Judging from the reaction, it seems to have been the right thing to do.

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