Sometimes I come across a situation where a struggle is occurring. It usually revolves around a transition from one activity to another. The transition is a battleground!
Take Ben, his teachers are keen to move him to another activity using verbal prompts. However Ben’s engrossed in the activity he wants to do, and is unable to transition.
The battle lines are set.
If the teacher spends time coaxing him to transition, all the other students get less time with her, however, left alone ben is so absorbed he won’t get his work done.
I spent time observing Ben during a lesson and here is a summary of what happened.
The children were asked to write about their weekend and then draw. Ben loves to draw, it is an area of special interest but it also is a fixed behaviour – he HAS to draw before he writes. Drawing calms him, reduces his anxiety and helps him express his thoughts about what he did at the weekend. The teachers wanted him to write first and then draw, (perhaps this is part of their fixed and rigid behaviour!!!! )
The class go to write about their weekend, Ben sits down and begins to draw.
Now battle ensues!!
Verbal prompts, count-downs, cajoling, carrot and stick techniques. The teachers are pulling their hair out because they can’t stop him drawing. After fifteen minutes of concerted effort Ben is finished drawing but has not written a word!!
He’s been prompted to write no fewer than 13 times by the teachers!! 13 times starting the processing time again, 13 lots of verbal information, 13 changes to his internal schedule, 13 times he’s had to tune out!!
The problem isn’t that Ben won’t write, he likes writing. The problem is he’s determined to finish drawing first.
Cue a stand off.
What’s to be done? How can we help Ben get writing? How can we save face but get the job of teaching done? Why won’t this child just do what he’s told????
As an outsider I can see a solution. I notice that while Ben is drawing the teacher can teach the rest of the class. Once the other children are on the drawing phase of the activity, Ben can have some support to write about his drawing.
We flip the activity on its head, Ben gets to draw first and then write. We didn’t need to change anything, rather we embraced the difference, integrated the Autism, compassionately accepted the child.
By not forcing transition we facilitate a beneficial outcome for all.
Yes, he might still require some reminders to finish drawing however his compulsion to draw has been satisfied.
Ben draws about his weekend, feeling calm and confident. Other students get the support they need. Ben gets the teacher’s help when he is ready to transition from drawing to writing. He has something to write about. He is able to ask questions and complete the work.
We can use rigid Autistic behaviours to our advantage, but we must be able to recognise our own rigid behaviours first!!!
A lesson for us all of using a behavioural trait to our advantage and a reminder that we don’t always have to change behaviours to get the outcome we want. A quiet class, less stressed teacher and a calm, relaxed Ben who achieves in both his art skills and literacy skills!!!.
If any of this seems familiar or you’d like information about a different issue you may have encountered with an Autistic student please get in touch, I’m confident I can help find a solution