Brandon shows up for his first session. His mom has pulled him out of public school and enrolled him in our hybrid private school. He is all wound up and nervous, biting at his fingernails, his sharp eyes flashing like a wild animal’s.
The day doesn’t go well. Brandon shrieks and screams and can’t seem to communicate his wants or needs, even though I know he’s verbally astute. The other kids don’t fall into his realm of vision, and he virtually ignores them.
Brandon hyper-focused on pattern blocks. This served as a follow-through on numerous occasions when we had to take them away from him.
I give him a box of pattern blocks, and he latches onto them, moving them in odd formations, talking in a monotone the entire time. He is disinterested in anything else, and he refuses to do anything asked of him, hyper-focusing on the blocks.
The four-hour day proves to be long for him with numerous melt downs. I talk to his mom when she picks him up, and she agrees to shorten his day and we will slowly build it back up. Baby steps with these kids. It’s the only way.
The first thing we do with Brandon, is “unschool” him. We ask nothing of him and let him drive the boat. I sit down with him one day as he moves his sacred blocks around. I need to know what makes this guy tick. “So, what bothers you the most about school?” I ask him.
He pops his head up and looks me in the eye, those dark eyes flashing with intelligence. It sickens me that people think these kids aren’t smart. He answers with the first emotion I’ve heard in his voice.
“Teachers…they say they’re going to do something, but they never do it.”
“What do you mean,” I ask, curious.
“Like…they tell you they’ll take something away or make you miss recess. Then they never do it.” He pauses. “I hate that.”
Brandon has just communicated his first need. The follow-through.
For every teacher who has worked with Brandon, I make one thing clear. If you say you’re going to do something, you’d better do it.
I always want to know what motivates these kids, as that is the carrot to dangle in front of them…more on that later. For Brandon, it’s screen time.
Transitions are particularly hard for Brandon, and I’ll never forget warning him that he has two minutes to get off the computer and back to the learning room. Of course, he refuses, locked into his game.
“If you don’t go now, I’m going to turn off the computer,” I tell him in a calm voice.
He refuses. I turn off the computer. He wails for a few minutes then trudges into the learning room.
For Brandon, and most kids on the spectrum, the follow-through is paramount, the key to building trust.
Step one in the baby step to overcoming autism. See, it isn’t that hard?