I’m here, isn’t that enough?

Anxiety and what it means to be Autistic
October 12, 2018

I’m often called to support a situation which has got a little out of control. Teachers and pupils are struggling to find a way forward that enables learning. I’m often reminded when this occurs how Autism, symptoms of Autism and children with autism can be much misunderstood. This can effect the child’s progress through education and of course their chances once education ceases. A child can seem unresponsive or disruptive, and a teacher who felt progress was being made is now confused about what’s gone wrong.

So what does this look like in practical terms? Let me take you on a journey using a recent experience of mine. I was called to help a teenager, at a local school. The teacher had got the student into class without too many problems but that’s as far as things could go. Clara would get in to the class and then do no more. The teachers were pleased she was there but when they asked her to start some work the response was “I’m here, isn’t that enough?”

What’s going on? Why has she hit such a barrier? Having spent time with Clara and observing her behaviour I concluded that symptoms of her Autism are to blame; her social anxiety and her sensory processing. Clara sees just getting into the classroom as a real achievement in itself. In her eyes she’s jumped a huge hurdle just getting this far.
It’s a bit like that moment after you’ve been in a car crash, your nerves are shredded and although you may appear to be fine to third party, you’re not really capable of any sort of intellectual activity. Just getting out of the car requires a huge effort. Clara’s “car crash” is getting into the classroom, it’s taken all her willpower just to get in to the class. The teachers then asking her to do work seems utterly unreasonable.

Is there a solution? The problem seems intractable. Well the first step is to make sure Clara and her teachers understand each other. The teacher’s need to understand that being in class is a big step for Clara and that further work may not be possible. Understanding how Clara feels can help us move forward. Maybe work will have to take place outside of the classroom. However there are other ways that this might be resolved and get Clara in to that classroom and then on to working. Which is why I first spent time working with the teachers so that they have a greater understanding of Autism and Autistic symptoms.

I then began to look specifically at Clara. As with many children and adults with Autistic Spectrum disorder Clara has an area of special interest. For Clara this area is Cats. She is at her most animated when talking about cats. Clara’s mum rescues strays and it’s something that really interests Clara. When talking about the cats her usual behaviour can seem to melt away. I am working on creating passion projects within the school to encourage Clara’s areas of special interest to blend with her curriculum work and so we are including cats into the classroom environment at every opportunity. I am hoping that by creating a classroom devoted to Clara, her Autistic symptoms will be reduced, the anxiety will drop and she will be in an environment conducive to learning. Tools like this can really help in Clara’s case and in others.

If any of this seems familiar or you’d like information about a different issue you may have encountered with a student with Autism please get in touch. I’m confident I can help find a solution