Author Jocelyn Taylor says that while adults may think a student with autism is being rude, he or she is actually in a state of confusion regarding what to do and how to react.
Academic skills versus social skills
In the case of Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism, pupil transporters should understand that a student may have high academic skills, may be earning high scores, reading college-level text books in an area of interest to him or accomplishing amazing memorization feats, but that same student may not realize that telling a bus driver how to drive is not acceptable, or that standing too close to someone can make him or her uncomfortable. That student also may not realize that just because a girl says “hi,” she is not his girlfriend and may not want to share a seat with him on the bus.
Teach according to children’s social failures
When these kids exhibit some type of social failure or a disruptive behavior, we need to ask ourselves, “What is it about this social situation that this kid does not understand?”
When he fails, we need to teach him what he isn’t understanding. He may
need to be taught the difference between “my space” and “your space,”
he may need to learn that other people get a turn to talk, and that you can stand closer to someone when you are standing in a bus line than when you are talking face to face.
In addition, he may need to learn that an accidental bump in the bus line is not teasing, but that repeated and unfriendly taunts are teasing and should be reported. He may need to learn that the bus rules on the way to school are the same as the rules on the way home from school, but that they are not the same during an emergency.
As previously mentioned, we need to teach these students how to accept another person’s point of view. This will enable them to make better sense of a complicated and unpredictable social world. Without this skill, the students will have difficulty monitoring their own behavior and responding to stress in acceptable ways.
For example, the students may have difficulty responding to an English literature assignment that requires them to discuss what the author was thinking, or completing a math assignment that includes a lot of handwriting, or a writing assignment that requires them to write about an area they are not interested in. The students may also have trouble coping with a physical education class where there is a high level of action and noise, and quick and unpredictable movements, or a bus ride that is taking a little longer than normal because of road construction.
As was alluded to earlier, students with autism are not trying to annoy you and they are not trying to be rude. They are not trying to make your life miserable, but they may enjoy your reaction to their screaming. Or they may be screaming to try to cope with their anxiety, or in an attempt to communicate with you.
The bottom line is, there is a disorder involved here — a high anxiety disorder with concomitant complications: executive function (they may need a “recipe” for how to ride the bus), handwriting (they may need some assistive technology), inflexibility (there is an intense need for routine and sameness), anxiety (they know they are different but don’t
know how to fix it), and social confusion (they can’t figure out what the other kids are laughing at).
If we as adults can understand the difference between “won’t do” and “can’t do,” we can add value, understanding, acceptance and validity to a student who is worried, anxious, confused, probably teased and in need of our effective intervention.
Jocelyn Taylor is an autism specialist at the Utah State Office of Education in Salt Lake City.