“What I Saw”

“What I Saw”

As a TSS I work in schools around a lot of autistic kids. . . and I see.

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For the Love of Earplugs

The school cafeteria is loud.  The gym at recess is loud (especially when it’s divided in half and they’re all crammed together).  In these settings the young autistic boy I work with often covers his ears.  Last year we had him sit beside the cafeteria wall to reduce the noise, and right after lunch we’d go to the sensory room for 15 minutes.  I always appreciated getting that break, myself!  If we were having a particularly rough day I’d  sit on the beanbag with the weighted blanket, not even caring that it amused my coworkers.  (As an aside, I love the one I have at home – I got it from DreamCatcher Weighted Blankets).

For a number of possible reasons the cafeteria seems louder this year, and we usually go to recess right after. . . which means I’m feeling overstimulated and irritable right along with my client.  Another woman who sits with us at lunch started wearing earplugs, and I kept saying I needed to remember to bring some, and we talked about options that my client might tolerate.  Of course due to memory issues (like those described here) I haven’t remembered to bring any in.  Today this kind soul had an extra pair and let me have them.  Which was good, because I was already feeling overly sensitive today – I couldn’t even wear my ponytail properly-tight because I could feel individual hairs being painfully pulled.

These are staying in my lunch bag.

These are staying in my lunch bag.

As soon as we sat down I stuck those little foam plugs in my ears and felt so relieved.  I could still hear what was going on around me, but it felt like I was in a protective bubble.  I noticed I was able to breathe easier, and when we entered the gym 15 minutes after lunch I instantly stuck those suckers back in.  She tried giving my client a pair and he wasn’t able to tolerate them, but we’ve got to find something for him.  I’m thinking he’d be ok with something like earmuffs – they may not be quite as sound-blocking, but it would still help! I know I’ll be using earplugs daily.

This is what I feel like doing after being in those ridiculously noisy rooms.

This is what I feel like doing after being in those ridiculously noisy rooms.

One of these days I want to take a decibel meter to work with me.  I wonder if anyone I know has one I could borrow. . .

Reflecting on “The Doubly Exceptional Child Grows Up”

After reading the Musings of an Aspie post that led to my self-diagnosis, I read several more of her entries.  This is one I read with a special hunger, because I too was labeled “gifted” as a kid and we didn’t know I had Aspergers.  Unlike Cynthia Kim, I didn’t have a great gifted program at my school.  I was in 1st grade when I received the diagnosis and the next year  I was thrown in with some older kids (scary!) for the weekly activities. (If I recall correctly I was the first one in my grade to go, but one other girl may have started at the same time.)  I only have two clear memories of the program.  The first is building towers with straws in the library; I was frustrated when we were done and I saw the superior techniques the other kids had used. The second was using an SLR camera. We were given note cards saying what we were to photograph, and mine said “blacktop” – I was super embarrassed when I had to ask the teacher what it was and she told me I was standing on it.  Today I asked Mom a few questions to check my own memories of the timeline. She said she talked to my 2nd grade gen-ed teacher and they agreed that to me it felt more like a punishment, so they let me quit the program.

Fortunately I wasn't permanently deterred from learning to use an SLR.

Fortunately I wasn’t permanently deterred from learning how to use an SLR.

In fifth grade a went to a different school (I was bored; they promised I could work at my own pace; they lied).  I enjoyed the gifted program there, mostly because I had a crush on one of the boys.  When I returned to public school the next year I continued in the program.  From what I recall the teacher was pretty cool and really nice to me, but my peers. . . well. . . they were all girls, and at this point the bullying and social awfulness had started (and in junior high the gifted class ended up being one of my worst settings socially).  But that’s a topic for another day.  In 9th the teacher who normally had the gifted kids for a period was ill, and the sub didn’t do much with us, so it was basically a fun study hall. That was my last experience with the gifted program.  Junior and senior high were academically better for me because there were accelerated and AP courses to take.

Back to the post titled “The Doubly Exceptional Child Grows Up.”  I hope you’ll read it in its entirety, but here are a few of my favorite key quotes:

Adults wrote off our quirks as a byproduct of our intelligence. They sent us out to the playground and expected us to figure out how to navigate the social minefields that lurked within kickball games and jump rope circles. We were smart. We would get it eventually.

This is a bit like taking a kid who’s a good baseball player, throwing him in the pool, then being surprised if he sinks like a rock. What do you mean he can’t swim? If he’s athletic enough to hit a baseball, surely he’s athletic enough to swim.

When you arrive in adulthood lacking the social skills that most people have mastered by sixth grade, life becomes exponentially more confusing and hard to navigate. For much of my adulthood, I’ve had the odd belief that someday I would “grow up” and suddenly feel like an adult. That I was just a little behind the curve when it came to social skills and one day everything would magically fall into place.

A final note for today about giftedness. When I was in college, I took as an elective an education course titled Psychology of the Exceptional Child (special education).  Our wonderful professor put the bell curve up on the board, and reminded us that two standard deviations below the mean on an IQ test meant a child received an MR diagnosis (now Intellectual Disability) whereas children two standard deviations above the mean were labeled Gifted. Children in the first group generally spend most of their school day in a special classroom, and children in the second group spend maybe an hour a week in a special classroom. Yet the second group is just as different from their typical peers as the first group is. That kinda blew my mind, and it helped me feel a little more understanding towards myself. It also helped explain why I felt so very different, though I hadn’t yet discovered the biggest missing puzzle piece.

Hmm.   I wonder about the percentage of people at the right end of the bell curve who are also Aspies.  Let’s research. . . first interesting Google result- here’s a great article about Gifted children with Asperger’s Syndrome  – it includes a chart showing some differences between Gifted and AS kids as well as some strategies for helping the AS kids.  I’m heading down a rabbit trail and have “real life” stuff to work on today, but I’d love to look into this more.  If you have any thoughts or research to share, leave a comment!