GOING TO SCHOOL
SAMPLE INTRODUCTION LETTER TO TEACHER
Hello, we are ________'s parents. Our child has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (AS), which is a neurobiological disorder on the Autistic spectrum. It is impossible for me to define in detail AS in one letter, but I would like to give you all the support that I can. Working together as a team with open and frequent communication is the key to helping ______ manage himself and find his place.
While there is no cure for AS, we should help _____ develop self help and coping techniques so that he can manage the over-stimulating and confusing world around him. There is a range of severity of symptoms within the syndrome, the very mildly affected child may appear odd or eccentric. The clinical features of AS include:
|Social interaction impairments.
|Speech and communication characteristics.
|Cognitive and academic characteristics.
|Restricted patterns of behavior, interests and activities.
Additionally, there are other less popular criteria which can surpass or coexist with the above symptoms. Many of which can be identified or defined as:
Low tolerance for frustration
Each symptom plays it's own part in every aspect of _____'s life. Each comes about in different ways in different situations. Even under the best of circumstances, an unexpected change or stimulation can set in motion unseen stress that can result in a rage or meltdown hours later coupled with other external factors. Many children, _____ included, do not reveal stress through voice tone, body posture, etc. Understanding that it is not always the direct, visual, obvious factors, but the unseen and unrelated ones as well. Almost all of these features are not the result of willful misbehavior or malice, but the inability to connect or understand the world around them.
Behavioral problems are almost always connected to feelings of stress, fatigue, loss of control, inability to predict or manage outcomes. At times our child simply does not innately know how to respond. Aggressive behavioral responses are a defensive panic reaction related to the "flight/fight/fright" response. To understand and manage classroom behavior, it is necessary to know what _____ (and many AS children) innately need. An environment that is highly structured, organized, calm, predictable and controlled. It is under these conditions that _____ can do his best work, and by extension, act his best. _____ depends on external "order" to maintain his own internal "order."
Children with AS have many "splinter skills," in this _____ is no different. It is often these abilities that act against the child in masking underlying problems. Very often these splinter skills are misleading, just because a child can parrot or memorize given information doesn't mean that the material is understood in a larger scope for which the material is intended or needed for more complex hierarchical subjects. It is in these academic areas that _____ has been able to excel, when in fact it underscores his uneven personal development as a child who "exceeds the work of other children" and yet displays "emotional immaturity."
|Splinter skills in children who have AS are seen as:
|Above average intelligence
|Exceptional rote memory
|Strong command of language
|Primarily visual learners
|Strong interest in math, science and nonfiction material
Children with AS pass easily through the curriculums of the early grades based primarily on the methodology of the instruction that matches their splinter skills. In order to educate a child who has AS or high-functioning autism you must try to understand the way that information is filtered, processed, stored and recalled. All the while factoring in the personality and the way that _____ works with classmates and keeping in mind the splinter skills and distractions that may interfere with the way that information is filtered.
While research in this area of how children retain and process information is still being investigated, we know the following to be true of children who have AS:
|Concrete and literal thinkers
|Inability in discerning relevant from irrelevant information (i.e.: all info. vs. highlights)
|Inability to generalize information (i.e.: "if you know this, then you know that")
|Poor problem solving mechanics (i.e.: using one strategy in all problems)
|Fine motor control and strength (i.e.: handwriting, shoes, scissors=frustration)
Additionally, there are many factors that can inhibit the way that _____ filters and recalls information. Information is filed in thousands of individual small files, neither of which has anything to do with all the other thousands of "mental files." Material is learned in one dimension and for that fact alone. WE must teach or determine a way for _____ to connect all these files together. A way for all the information to be linked together and generalized. We must ask ourselves "How do we teach generalization?," the answer to actually, visually take the information and physically show all the ways that it can and can't be used.
These characteristics can affect academic performance.
|Distraction/Inattention (i.e.: hum of lights, trying to focus on all details)
|Tunnel vision: (i.e.: adherence /monitoring class rules, personal interests)
|Rote memory: (VERY DANGEROUS, memorizing all the facts and then parroting the information in an "asked & answered" format without bridging that information for use in other material or personal experience)
|Visual verses auditory processing: (visual stronger than auditory) Structure: (classroom rules are for this classroom only, not music room, assembly)
|Problem-solving: (+, plus, addition= same strategy)
|Motivation : (strong lack of motivation, he sees no relevance to material and necessity to his scheme, personal experience, out come)
|General behaviors: Preference to work alone, isolate oneself. -Love praise, winning, being first and pleasing adults. -Find losing, imperfection and criticism difficult to take. -Need to finish tasks they have started. -Work well one to one rather then in a group.
|Social Interaction -Poor use of nonverbal gestures and understanding of same. -Insists on all classmates following rules. -More self-centered then selfish. -Prefer younger children or adults for conversation. -Blatantly honest to a fault, can be labeled " tattle tale" -No interest in competitive sports or team games, preferring solitary activities/sports
|Communication/Speech: -Monotone voice -Overly formal speech -Metaphors and similes need to be explained. -Appear to speak " at " you rather than with you. -Pragmatic language difficulties. -Lack of eye contact. -Literal interpretation of directions " We will go tomorrow " -Vocalizations help to organize deluxe ideas or provide comfort. -Stress/anxiety will inhibit speech patterns and confuse _____.
|Narrow interests/preoccupations: -One of the hallmarks of AS is the preoccupation with certain topics. These preoccupations, usually in intellectual areas change over time or evolve, but do not lessen in intensity and may be pursued to the excursion of other activities. It has been surmised that these special interests are scratch used to facilitate communication, indicate intelligence, provide order and consistency.
|Routines/Inflexibility: -Children often impose rigid routine on themselves and those around them, from how they want things done, to what they will eat. Routines will change from time to time. This inflexibility shows itself and other ways to, giving rise to difficulties with imaginative and creative thinking. The child tends to like the same old thing done in the same old way over and over again. There appears to be a developmental sequence in the nature of the interests, and the next phase is a fascination with the topic rather than an object. For _____ it began as reading letters when he was 2, then writing them, spelling words, etc. Routine appears to be imposed to make life predictable and to impose order, thus the establishment of routine ensures that there is no opportunity for change. As the person matures the insistence tends to diminish, but changes never easily tolerated.
|Motor skills: -Within this framework _____ is affected in the area of fine motor skills. He cannot write for long periods of time. He tends to rush handwriting to get it over with quickly, I believe to some extent that this is responsible for _____'s short independent writings and stories.
|Theory of Mind: -This final obstacle describes the way children with AS perceive other people's thoughts. They believe that their thoughts are the thoughts of everyone else. They do not appreciate that each person has their own independent thoughts. This would explain why they easily frustrate when other people don't know or understand what they are talking about. They also believe that everyone wants to follow the order and control of the environment just as they do, which justifies their " controlling" personality.
|As I said, there is no easy way to describe this. I have done my best to layout all the obstacles that we have come across. The good news is from here on I will give you several strategies and tips for working with _____ in both behavioral and academic ways. I have reviewed the material that addresses educational strategies to the best of my abilities, and taking into consideration the learning style that works best with _____ I can offer you the following suggestions:
|Visual Cues: *Charts, Outlines, Graphics. Visual will always work better than auditory.
|Structural Changes: *As often as possible, give advanced warnings to the changes taking place. *Pair _____ with a classmate that has an easy going personality or who might be slightly younger. Keeping in mind that he has to learn social skills from role-playing and peer directed activities.
|Assignment Notebooks are very useful. _____ almost never relays information to me about his day and would never remember verbal instructions to be told later. Additionally, he never remembers his belongings and then later would "meltdown" over forgetting something. It would be best to keep a visual schedule for him before he leaves the classroom for the day. * Timelines work very well for us. Giving _____ a five minute warning to a change in the activity has been very useful in helping him transition.
|Instructional Sequence: *A rationale is needed when teaching _____. He very often sees no relevance in the learned material to his own life or to other class work down the road. It is often necessary to explain WHY the material is necessary, how the student can use it, and why is works with something that they already have learned.
|Verification of the material is helpful during the instruction to verify that _____ is on task and focused. It also lets you confirm that _____ is coping with the external stimuli by filtering it out and staying on task.
|Motivation: *Notoriously known for not being motivated to complete tasks or to share in interests outside of their own interests are hallmark to the criteria of AS. The only ways to combat these are to challenge _____ with relating the work to their personal interests (Pokemon, Nintendo, WB) or letting _____ partake in an activity that he enjoys after the work is down. Nothing like old fashioned bribery.
There are two other areas which you should be aware of that happen outside of the classroom but relate to the goings on inside the classroom. HIDDEN CURRICULUM In every school there is an "education" that happens outside of the classroom. Students may know which teacher lets you go to the bathroom during a test or three at a time instead of two. How you can run down the hall without being caught, which teacher lets you slide on an assignment once a week, or what the cool kids are wearing. Everyone knows that except for _____. To me school is more that a place to learn, it's the social life of a child. Friendships must be helped along and tolerance and understanding must be fostered. It is not enough that _____ "get through" his school day, but grow from it, it ways that the class work doesn't address. The skills that I teach him to use on the playground don't carry over by _____ to use in the classroom. It may seem out of place, but it's needed nonetheless. Home Base: Students with AS often spend a significant amount of their school day coping with and managing their personal stress. They very often do not reveal that they are under stress, either through physical signs or voice tone. In the event that stress is evident it may be useful to provide a "home base" for _____ to retreat to. A home base provides an opportunity to "zone out" and collect themselves. _____ can take class assignments or tests to this area and work on them in a less stressful environment for a period of time. _____ needs to decompress when he comes home, and usually retreats to his room for about an hour. Managing and coping during the day take their toll and it is often very difficult to work with him in the evenings. Any communication from the teacher should be in written form as it is difficult to get messages from _____. It is evident that several steps and modifications are necessary to help _____ manage his personal and academic environment. However, despite the steps, nothing is more important than the personality of the teacher. A teacher that is nurturing, personable and loving is the best match for _____.
Once _____ has "let you into" his world he will display affection and try to be the junior teacher of the class. He views teachers and adults as the ones who control and organize the world around them, since this is his ultimate goal he will do his best to model them. The teacher that is combative, authoritative and domineering will not make any gains with _____.
More than anything we want you to know that we will support you and help you in any way that we can. I know that you have been presented with a challenging task, and there will be more bad days than good days in the beginning. When things are going good for a period of time, it doesn't mean that _____ is cured or never had a problem. It means that you have a close relationship with _____, understand his needs and provide him with an environment in which he feels safe. Together you and _____ will work hard, second grade is a very critical and challenging time. The work becomes less rote and more abstract, critical thinking skills are established and the foundation for the next years are laid out.
Please keep us informed of any changes, I am available to meet with you any time. I welcome any input or suggestions that you may have, please don't think that I am too busy or overwhelmed. I will come to meet with you always, nothing means more to me than the wisdom of a teacher when enriching the life of my special little boy.
August 11, 2002