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make your day dance

New year, new challenge: learning about autism

September 17th, 2009 · 6 Comments · Tags: ···

Perhaps related to economic pressures, our student numbers jumped from 320 to 380 this September. Sixteen of our new students belong to two self-contained classrooms & are diagnosed as severely impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorders. I’m learning quickly & first-hand what that means, since I provide 30 minutes of instruction for 8 of the children every day. But I’ve got a lot to learn…

Whatever “classroom management” a teacher may have devised for working with 30 students in a regular classroom is pretty worthless when faced with eight 5 to 9-year-olds who are non-verbal, don’t look your way & respond to neither names nor instructions. Engaging songs & hand jives with a sure-fire history of capturing the attention of kids?  They go unnoticed, as these darlin’s wander the room, browsing for switches to flick or objects to carry.  Needless to say, the 10-minute break before their class includes a room-check:  a sheet to cover the electronics, pen basket onto the top shelf, everything on my desk shoved out of reach.

Of 90 minutes I’ve had with this week’s group, we’ve had about 15 good ones, in 1-3 minutes increments. I define a good minute as one when I’m not dancing all by myself.

On the positive side, of course, I do believe they need what I offer, if I can just figure out how to invite them along. And success has a whole new standard…

  • Last week after 3 days of working on “clapping conversations” (I face a student one-on-one, and we take turns clapping), 3 of the 8 did something that I was able to qualify as a response.
  • Yesterday Harry quit wandering & accepted a scarf, which he waved & tossed for a good 3 minutes.
  • Today when the scarves came out, 6 of 7 were willing to sit in a circle in order to receive one, and most of them managed to follow my lead on waving, turning, & tossing. A truly stunning moment was when I put my scarf on my arm instead of in my hand — they were all with me!

As I head down this path, I’m grateful for help in all forms!  So far, I’ve met the OT assigned to our building — perhaps he’ll have some helpful insights.  In addition, I’ve made email contact with several other dance educators who work with special needs children, and I’m hopeful they’ll have much to share!  And I’ve gained a small but illuminating window into this world of uncertainty by reading Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, by Ellen Notbohm.

If you have insights, advice or experience to share, please do…!

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Deborah Robson

    Fascinating. We have a wonderful prof at CSU who is autistic and a specialist in animal behavior: Temple Grandin. She has written about the experience of being autistic. Thinking in Pictures and The Way I See It are the two of her books that are most about living with the condition. Her mother, who was her greatest ally in achieving many amazing things, wrote Thorn in My Pocket about raising a child who was seen as very limited and letting her achieve her potential (a Ph.D., among other things).

    I’m going to add two web links, in two separate comments:

  • Deborah Robson

    On my recent long road trip, the audiobook I listened to was Temple Grandin’s Animals Make Us Human. I was especially intrigued by one of the later chapters, on wildlife, in which she discusses both the differences between lab and field sciences (controlled experiments versus pure observation and analysis) and some of her own experiences with graduate school in particular.

    But the books in the previous comments are the ones that I think would be most helpful.

    Here’s basic background on Dr. Temple Grandin:

  • mrm

    Thanks for the tip & the link. Temple Grandin was referenced in Ten Things Every Autistic Child Wishes You Knew as well. I’ll look into it, along with Developmental Movement Therapy. More on that later, cause I don’t know how to put a link in a comment yet, & it’s time to head for school! :)

  • Bobbie

    A voice from your past, who has been following your blog for some time now! Temple Grandin is an excellent resource. She comes to Seattle on occasion to speak, including an appearance at the Early Childhood Conference in Bellevue several years ago. I appreciate her ability to be verbal and to describe how she perceives her world. Thinking In Pictures greatly helped me understand how the children I know are/were processing their experiences. There is also a perceptive novel called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which is written through the eyes of a verbal autistic young man.
    I have lots to say about all of this, but I am not very articulate and tend to disintegrate into phrases and images. Email me, please, and if you can tolerate my meanderings, I would love to correspond.

  • megrm

    So great to hear from you, Bobbie! Not just because it’s been so long, but because you have some perspective on the this new path I find myself following! I’ve read — and loved — The Curious Incident, and I’ll be in touch…

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