“There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up.” – Malala Yousafzai
The summer holidays are here and I’ve been reflecting on how fast the school year has gone. There’s been highs, lows, lightbulb moments and unforgettable memories. It’ll be sad to say goodbye to the kids in my class and team, but I feel incredibly proud to see how far the kids have all come.
A major highlight has been sharing the journey of a 9 year old autistic boy. When I first met him he rarely made eye contact or spoke to his peers and teachers. This sensitive little boy was overshadowed by dominant adults and kids speaking over him. He would hide under tables or behind furniture when he felt shy or anxious. His main form of communication were limited verbal responses where he would mimic the tone of Pingu, his favourite TV character.
“It’s a shame when the things that are in your mind and in your heart never reach your lips.” – Susan Gale
So what did we put in place at school to help this little boy? Here’s a few things which may have helped him along the way:
Less is More In my classroom when talking to the kids, we use simple and clear language to meet their level of understanding. Too much talking can be overwhelming for any child to process, especially one on the autistic spectrum. I like to get on the kids’ level, so depending on their cognitive abilities I use simplistic phrases, PECs, communication/choosing boards and verbal prompts when talking to them.
Time for Intervention I have been fortunate to work alongside some amazing therapists over the years, including a behaviour therapist who worked with the boy for a term. He was supported to develop his self esteem, learn to trust himself and understand that it’s okay to speak up. We would then integrate this into my classroom to encourage him to communicate. We also used colourful semantics, emotional regulation, drama games and circle time listen/talk sessions.
“Listen, speak and listen again. Your ears have value learn to use them.” – Unknown
Creative Mindfulness I love the use of yoga, mindfulness and sports activities with kids in the school environment. These tools can develop essential life skills, confidence, body awareness, enhances creativity and builds a sense of inner peace and calm. This can then have a positive impact on social communication skills as I’ve seen with the little boy in my class over the school year.
Creating a Calm Space I think a classroom should be a happy, calm and multi-sensory space to have fun and learn in. In reality this is not always possible, but children need to walk into a welcoming environment. My classroom displays show children’s creative work, but are very simple to reduce the chance of sensory overload. A child is also given the time and calming space to process and respond, which is met with lots of adult praise. To build self-esteem within the classroom, children were reassuringly encouraged to take on more responsibilities like Register Monitors, Student Council Rep or Playground Monitor.
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou
Throughout the year the little boy gradually blossomed into a more self assured person. He has begun to find his own voice in this world without mimicking a fictional character. The boy is slowly discovering that it’s okay to have his own interests and to bravely show his true self to the people in his life. It’s lovely to see how much he’s changed and I’m excited to hear how he progresses in his new class.
I hope this post inspires you to courageously speak your own truth. The way we speak to our children can become their inner voice. Encouraging children to be confident, listen and find their voice from within can help develop vital skills to communicate in their own special way.
Miss H ♥