Since first grade, a key component of the special education services the Navigator has received through his school has been teaching him appropriate behavior in social settings.
His school used a social thinking program called Superflex, and with it helped him to recognize social behaviors as well as his own emotional responses to situations.
Autism Dad and I learned about the program and used as much as we could at home as well so that he was receiving consistent education in both places.
One of the tools used in the program was to explain to the Navigator when behavior was “expected” and “unexpected.”
It is how he learned in first grade not to crawl under the tables when the teacher was talking; how not to stim in crowded hallways and accidentally hit other children; how not to resolve conflicts by being a tiger.
For four years he has learned and internalized this instruction such that his behavior is incredibly improved since he was first diagnosed.
Yes, he still has challenges, such as executive function task initiation and sometimes his stims can distract his classmates. Still, he has come amazingly far.
He has gotten to the point where he can also learn the behavioral expectations of all kids at his school (which they repeat together as a school in the morning every day): have respect, act responsibly, work hard, keep high expectations, stay safe.
A couple of weeks ago, he told me that some kids in his classroom stare at him.
“When the teacher comes to my desk to tell me to start my work, they stare at me like why aren’t you paying attention after she walks away.”
“It’s not fair,” he continued. “When they are staring at me, they aren’t paying attention to the teacher but she’s not talking to them about it.”
He was right, it was not fair. But not just for the reasons he thought.
Being troubled by the behavior he was experiencing and talked to his teacher and special education teacher about it. Staring at my child was not having respect nor acting responsibly.
“Well, he needs to know the social consequences of not doing his work,” his special education teacher started, but I cut her off.
“No,” I said. “What those kids are doing is unexpected behavior. It is not nice, it is not acceptable, and in the same way that my son is expected to follow social norms, the other kids should be held to the same standard.”
In other words, this was not about my son’s Autism, not about his learning social rules or managing his executive function challenges.
This was about the teacher reinforcing the behavioral expectations of every child in the class and holding others accountable, too.
It was definitely not about making my son responsible for others’ behavior.
I think it is time that my son’s Autism is no longer the only lens through which his social interactions are viewed at school.