I’ve had enough experience now to know what works and what doesn’t work for my son (most of the time, anyway). We’ve enjoyed two years of schooling where Michael absolutely thrived, learned, engaged in life, and was happy.
I’ve been through years where we lived in this “survival” mode, where we’d simply get through each day and hope for the best before moving on to the next.
And I lived through one traumatic year filled with crying and screaming most every day… unless I kept him home with me, tucked under my wing, where he felt safe in a consistent, predictable space.
What I’ve come to discover is that there are three main qualities that create a successful environment for any child, but especially for our beautiful children on the spectrum. If a person possesses these three qualities, or works hard to integrate them into their lives and classrooms, they will create a beautiful and helpful experience for our different-brained children.
I define compassion as someone who accepts and champions others just as they are. I think compassion is critical for humanity in general, but if you find someone who really accepts our different-brained children for exactly who they are—as their own unique person—then that child can then become who they are meant to be … and do so with pride and confidence.
For example, my son likes/needs/wants to be first. I have seen a compassionate person accept this about him and work with others to meet his need. He was never shamed because he needed to be first. It was a simple matter of understanding his needs and helping to meet them. Seems so simple, doesn’t it?
Flexibility is actually the most important quality I would request in a caregiver of these children. Yes, schedules and predictability are ultra-important, which I totally understand and encourage. Within that system, though, I believe there must be flexibility. And I’m not talking about surface flexibility either. They can’t just say, “I’m flexible.” I mean the real deal, truly compassionate, I-can-change-what’s-happening-if-it’s-needed flexibility.
Let’s say, for example, that the class always meets in a specific room. Then let’s say that one of the children starts to show the beginnings of a meltdown.
I believe that’s the moment of flexibility, when the lesson is stopped. A flexible person can work to figure out what the trigger points might be for the potential meltdown that is clearly about to occur (intuitiveness is a needed characteristic, but it’s not one of my top three traits).
A flexible person might first ask what’s different? What can I see that might be affecting her? Can I see anything different in this room that wasn’t here yesterday? What are this child’s typical triggers? Did it start when she entered into this room? Or was she agitated before this?
If they have no clue and are able to pause the class for a moment, I believe they can take time to ask the child kindly and gently, adding no urgent pressure. My idea of flexibility seems so utopic to me, but this is truly what I believe is necessary, needed, possible, and healthy.
Flexibility in that moment is paramount and critical to the overall health of the child. The teacher needs to catch the potential breakdown as it begins with diligence, compassion, and clear communication.
I believe when questions are asked in an attempt to help—even if the problem is never figured out—that child is validated, seen, honored, and loved (which is really what we’re all searching for anyway).
Kindness matters! If kindness was a constant way of being in our world, we would be surrounded by so much more beauty than we already have. I believe it’s the strongest role modeling that we can share with these children. These children, who are so often bullied at the opposite end of kindness, can use more understanding than most.
Sent with compassion, flexibility, and kindness,
Do you have a characteristic you’d like to add to this list? Please share over on Facebook. I’d love to see what else is working well for our children (and ourselves)!