Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lesson #8 - ASD Kids Will Always Sweat the Small Stuff

I teach several students with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), as well as those with Aspergers.  They're fantastic kids, and I find that, as with any kid, they all have their little quirks, though they tend to be magnified by their disorder.  I love teaching kids with ASD, because they bring that bit of something different into your classroom, and remind you to keep thinking outside the box.  I have five kids with some form of Autism in my Year 11 class, and they're all brutally honest, which means I always know exactly how my lessons have gone.

Quirks though, they've got a few.  One boy, who we'll call Sheldon (let's face it, he is my little Sheldon), is very, very smart.  The kid's got a eidetic memory.  I have on occasion asked the class to recall an event in a novel where the protagonist was compared to a tiny chicken, and he was able to pinpoint not only the quote, word-for-word, but the page number.  It's insane, and I wish I could take him everywhere with me, because he'd make up for my terrible organisational skills.

He does get quite stressed though, and frequently needs to take 'time out' breaks in class whenever people get too noisy, whenever someone mucks up our schedule (changing rooms writes off the whole lesson if he hasn't been given a week to prepare), or when I want the kids to do group work.  He also gets quite stressed when things aren't as they should be (if someone's sitting at his desk, if someone has drawn on his desk, or his desk is not where it should be).

On the particular day where this lesson was learned, Sheldon's desk was exactly where it should be, my preparation was exactly as it should be, and the class was working beautifully on individual work.  It should have been Sheldon heaven, but alas, it was not; something was wrong.

I could see Sheldon becoming quite stressed (he bounces up and down) and approached him to see if I could rectify the situation.  He turned over his desk, and pointed out to me that, of the eight bolts that held the wooden top of his desk to the metal legs, one of them was a quarter turn out of position.  I looked, realised that prior to this moment, I didn't even know that they desks were held together with bolts, and acknowledged that yes, one of the bolts was out of a quarter turn.

Sheldon seemed relieved that I had seen the problem, and immediately stood up to leave the room.

He was going outside, because either this wasn't his desk, or someone had been messing with his desk, and that wasn't okay.  I tried to wiggle the out of place bolt with my fingers, but nothing happened, so I went to my pencil case and pulled a pair of scissors to use as a makeshift pair of pliers.

"I can fix it!"

Apparently, I couldn't fix it, and he was becoming more and more of the opinion that it wasn't his desk anyway.  His desk had a small patch close to the right front where someone had obviously scrubbed it a little harder than normal to clean it, and this one didn't seem to have that patch, so probably his desk was somewhere else, and could he go back to his desk in the library to do his work, because there was something wrong with the desk.

The whole class has watched this unfold by the way, and when I look up from fiddling with the desk to look at the other students, they're all still busily working away as though nothing is happening, and I smile for a moment realising that they're completely used to random oddities.  A couple even offer their desk to Sheldon, who walks over, inspects them, realises that they're not his desk, thanks them for their kindness, and goes back to fidget by the door.  I allow Sheldon to depart, finish my lesson, and within minutes, the class has left the room.

With lunch beginning, and the classroom now empty, I proceed to look for Sheldon's desk.  I turn over every single desk in the room, and inspect the bolts.  Each time I find one that is unaligned, I turn it back over, ensuring that it forms a straight line with the other desks.  The bell rings for half time, but I'm still checking, and when I reach the 28th desk, I find that it has all bolts aligned, and, delighted, turn it over to reveal a small scrawl in pen across the top.

This is Sheldon's desk, I decide, and pull out a rubber to make the ink disappear.  I'm almost done when the bell rings for the end of lunch, and I realise that I have spent 40 minutes trying to make one child less unhappy.  I reposition the desk, and head off to another room for my next class.

It's a day before I see Sheldon again, and we're back in that room.  He cautiously approaches his desk, as though the uneven bolt may cause hell to open up below him, but it doesn't, and he safely takes a seat and runs his long fingers underneath the wooden top to check the bolts.  I smile with relief when I see him comforted by those straight and even bolts.

It's less than two minutes before I see him bouncing again, and he raises his hand.  "My desk has a squiggle line, just there."

True Story.