An Open Letter to School Officials
There are developmental states between having autism and having had it. It’s analogous to the ‘pins-and-needles’ feeling following a limb injury, for example, but preceding a more complete recovery.
During that healing phase, there may be muscle weakness and nervous incoordination; dysfunction about which little can be done, other than being patient. So it appears to be with children who have achieved useful speech and a degree of socialization that enables them to join the general student body.
Leftover signs and symptoms may include immaturity (difficulty transitioning to non-preferred work, impatience, non-compliance, etc.), ADHD conduct, and aggression. It is not uncommon for pupils affected with residual ASD, therefore, to display unacceptable behavior. In a Gen-Ed setting, meltdowns may tax and even infuriate staff.
When asked about their favorite activity at school, most children answer, “Lunch,” or “Recess.” Since students can’t be denied the former, personnel may turn to withholding the latter from those who misbehave, in order to instill respect and compliance. That may be a big mistake.
Indoor activities and distractions have become the norm and consume large chunks of time. iStuff, therapies, homework, tutoring, etc. all keep youngsters out of the sun and fresh air. Physical isolation with limited calorie-burning is the last thing that children with language delay and difficulty sitting still need. Who gains from such punishment? Some kids prefer to avoid the anxiety of outside play. Perhaps, bullying is precipitating a breakdown? Others do not appear to object, at all, by such censure.
Techniques to instill self control that may have been successful in previous centuries no longer apply to a neuro-diverse student body. Parents and professionals must collaborate to make sure that a proper and appropriate plan of action follows a display of maladaptive behaviors. Strategies that are more likely to be successful – and less detrimental – can be developed. Methods should be individualized, with the help of appropriate staff. Such an approach helps assure a more productive academic season.
Access to recess should be as important as lunch; maybe even more so, since so many children with challenging behaviors are on special diets and picky eaters, anyway. Just kidding, of course (but not really).