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…!