The following article was written by Samantha Gilbert, a student from Allentown, PA with autism. These are her personal tips to thrive in your classroom.
If you already understand that every classroom is different, and not every piece of advice will work for every student then you are ahead of the game.
In fact, since every country has different education systems (and often, within those countries, the education system changes from place to place) and not every piece of advice will be tailored to every classroom.
As most teachers and students know, every school year brings new changes, new possibilities, and new challenges. In Special Needs classrooms, with disabled students, this could not be more true.
As I have some diagnoses that make it difficult for me to be in any classroom, when I begin a new semester I have a conversation I like to repeat with each of my new teachers. It is really more of a monologue, now, as it is memorized and I can give it by rote. I do my best to deal with my diagnoses, but I know that there are still a few things that will be affected so I like to address them.
To begin, I need a place on the first row. It needs to be away from the door. This allows me to be in what I call my own private bubble. That bubble includes my teacher and the chalkboard, but it excludes everyone and everything else. This helps me concentrate in class. It is a strategy that works for me, and may work for other students that you teach.
I always do my best to pay attention in class, and to participate, but I let my teachers know that I will never be taking part in any type of group work. It is too stressful to me, but sometimes I can work with a partner, but only someone I like. If group work is part of your classroom plan, you should take students like me into consideration and come up with differentiated forms of instruction. Offer more partner work, or be satisfied if I choose to go it alone.
At the beginning of each year, as I explain these issue to my new teachers, I try not to be dramatic. I am very matter-of-fact and I let them know that I can learn, but it will be better if I am not forced to try group work. I let them know that this would be, and is, very stressful for me, and would be detrimental to my learning process.
Sometimes, no matter how well the learning process is going, I need a day to de-stress. Sometimes, life just gets too stressful and I need to decompress and stay home. While it may seem like I am skipping school, I assure my new teachers that I am not, and that this is just going to be part of my process, part of what it is like to teach me.
I want there to be no misunderstandings, so I tell the teachers all of this upfront.
And I always tell my teachers that I am a good student. I will learn the material. They should never really worry about teaching me. I will get it. After my monologue, I am usually on good terms with all of my teachers. While I never promise them that I will be the perfect student, or even a Straight A student, I have promised to do my best, and I always do my best.
This is something that my teachers appreciate. That and my honesty. They like the fact that I have explained my diagnoses, and what I need from them to be successful. Together, my teachers and I already have that plan in place, so that I can have a good year.
On my not so good days, I try to remember not to upset my teachers. I know that there is nothing good to come of it, and I want them to stay on my side. I remind myself that they are not my enemies, and so, even if it is one of my bad days (and I do have those), I stay friends with them and am always polite to them.
Additionally, I always keep two other things in mind:
After having said all of this, I must keep my word. The teachers will only take me seriously if I do. If I have said all of this and then I don’t uphold my end of the bargain, why should they?
And secondly, I have to remember that my diagnoses are explanations, they are certainly not excuses. So while I know that my diagnoses do need my attention, they should not keep me from being a good student or a good person. I still have to keep my education and my social skills in perspective, and continue to improve on both fronts.
When I have this conversation with my teachers, I would like them to know that I understand these are not requests, that we are working together and I am to be polite at all times. I also have to keep my conversation short, and I hope that they understand that. I also hope that teachers see this is a two-way street, and that I only want necessary information. I don’t need long explanations, just the facts.
If we all understand this, the year will go as smoothly as possible.