Over my 13 years in education, I’ve taught many students with autism, and I’m incredibly passionate about working with students with special needs. I’ve definitely written more social stories than I can count, and sometimes I’m amazed by the number of them that just naturally go through my head. I’ve learned over the years that students with autism often struggle with changes in routine, they like structure, they need visuals, and they sometimes have various sensory needs. I’ve worked with the Autism Team, Learning Resource Teachers, and Educational Assistants (EA’s) to meet all of these needs in the classroom, and maybe that’s why today, I recognized these needs in myself.
At the end of the year, I’m moving schools and grades, and as classes are moving around the school, I’m feeling an increased need to get packed up and organized for the move. With the help of my vice principal, I organized a packing challenge for today, and students worked with me to maximize space in the boxes and pack up the classroom.
As the students were working together to pack, I couldn’t help but stare across the room. There were boxes everywhere. Bins were tipped out on the floor as students sorted materials. Surfaces were covered with paper, pencils, construction paper, and tape. Students from other classes were coming to deliver supplies for next year and pick up supplies to bring to the new Grade 5 classroom. And as I looked at the mess and realized the changes that were happening, I was totally overwhelmed! That was when I sent out this tweet …
The truth is, I don’t have autism, but I needed a social story.
- I was overwhelmed with the change.
- I was overwhelmed with the mess.
- I was overwhelmed with the visuals.
- I didn’t know what to do or what to say.
- I was ready to cry.
And at that moment in time, I gained a new appreciation for my students with autism and their needs. I also realized how the strategies that we use for students with autism can benefit so many other students (and adults) as well.
When I left the classroom at lunch today, I happened to stop in at the principal’s office, and I shared how I was feeling. As my eyes filled up with tears, I watched what Paul did:
- He let me talk.
- He remained calm.
- His tone was even.
- He asked what he could do to help, but he also reminded me that everything would be okay. Maybe without even realizing it, he gave me the start of a social story.
In just a few minutes, I was feeling better. After lunch, I even managed to get my amazing students and EA’s to help me organize the classroom and contain the chaos. I feel like I can breathe again!
Today reminded me of the impact that change can have on all learners (young and old), and the importance of remembering and addressing all of these needs — especially at a time of year when there might be the most change of all. How do you prepare for change? How do you support your learners when changes occur? I’d welcome any insight on this, as I’m sure that the coming days will have me working through many changes.
Aviva, The stepping back at lunch helped you to gain perspective and see a clear way to organize. Congratulations on seeing a clearer path.
Thanks Bill! I appreciate my principal for helping me see this “clearer path.” There’s definitely value in taking a little time out to gain perspective … and in hearing some words of encouragement when we need it the most!