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Tuesday, June 10, 2014


School is a long time. Thirteen years of hard slog for those of us who didn't or don't enjoy it. My eldest (NT) daughter seemed to breeze through her school years and has since moved on to university. My next daughter so far (she's five years in) seems to be doing OK too despite a few challenges and bumps along the way. She's keeping up academically with peers and with support managing the trickier aspects of organising herself in the class, participating in group activities like sport, managing anxiety, and has some friends. All in all I'm both happy and proud of how she's coping.

Then there's Harri. The wild child. Not one to be controlled, compelled, bribed or berated to any great effect. School offers both too much and not enough stimulation for him. And yes there is such a thing. Simultaneous over and under stimulation has been his struggle since birth, I made reference to this back when I first started blogging.  Because of this neurological complexity mainstream school is not well suited to his learning style. He is an experiential learner. He needs to understand the value and purpose in learning something in order to pay it any attention. If he can't ascertain a purposeful need for knowing something then he will fight having to learn it. He's the kind of kid who can happily be taught measurement if you are planning a garden bed or mending a broken swing. He could see the reason in that context and be motivated by the outcome, given he enjoys gardening and swings. But show him a ruler at a desk and try to teach him measurement that lacks a practical context and his eyes glaze over.

Adding another level of challenge is the sensory overload. The lights, sights, and noise of the school environment. It's almost impossible for him to focus in that situation without a high level of motivation. And unlike lots of others on the spectrum, he isn't a fan of repetition figuring if he's done something once, like write out the alphabet, why would he bother to do it again?

His school, teacher and aide have all been brilliant. This is a kid at the Aspergers end of the spectrum who has a full time teachers aide, which is unheard of in terms of funded support.  She's a wonderful advocate for him, reads him beautifully, and knows when he needs to be given time out from a situation for a sensory break, although it can be very hard to gauge with Harri as he doesn't display obvious signs of distress such as covering ears. It's seems to me the staff in his class very much care about him and want him to do well given we know he's capable of doing much more than he currently is. So what's the problem?

Internal motivation? Developmental immaturity? Executive function issues? Impulse control? ADHD? Stubborness? Boredom? Probably all of the above. I can't be certain what the underlying factors are that create his resistance but as the year goes on his in-class behaviours become more defiant and resistant.  He's got positive behaviour supports, skilled staff, a compassionate and supportive environment and a sharp mind, yet all those supports aren't enough to overcome whatever is going on for him.  I wish he could articulate what it is that's happening so we could help more but for now it's all trial and error and worry.

Worry if things will improve. Worry that as he ages and demands increase so will his resistance. Worry at what happens when he doesn't have teachers or aides that are so understanding. Worry about how I'll get him to school each day if he becomes so stressed he no longer wants to attend. Worry he'll start to slip behind his peers academically leading to additional stress on his part. And my greatest fear, worry he will stop enjoying learning. He's smart, and yet it's so difficult for him to show us what's inside that amazing little mind. Fear of failure is an ever present threat to kids like Harri. He'd rather not try than fail at something.  Finding the balance between challenging him and increasing his confidence and sense of mastery is tricky. BUT that's what we have to do to keep him in the game. 


  1. You could be writing about my youngest. :)

    1. Hope yours is having a better year than mine SAC :)

    2. He is now, it's summer vacation for us and he's having a blast not having to go to school. lol Seriously, though, he got a new teacher last year. It took her awhile to get up to speed on Ben, but once she did she did a great job getting Ben up to speed with his potential.

      Here's what worked for him:
      1) Ben has a very small class size -- Ben and another student are the only full-time students and then there are occasional walk-ins.
      2) All of Ben's curriculum has been modified according to his interests -- for example, Ben loves maps, so his reading exercises often have to do with geography in some way or another.
      3) Ben gets lots of breaks during which he can stim or play with something desirable, depending on his needs.
      4) Ben can go down to the OT resource room almost whenever he wants to use sensory equipment on an as-needed basis.
      5) The staff use technology (iPads, etc.) effectively and a lot of his curriculum is taught using special apps or programs.
      6) Ben is given the illusion of control, which decreases his resistance -- they do this by giving him real choices that still fulfill their objectives (like "Math or reading, which do you want to do next?")

      I hope that helps. The real thing, though, is not so much the techniques, but having teachers and staff that can and do get in-tune with him. Understanding Ben and appreciating his perspective makes a world of difference in how he responds to different techniques. The techniques are important, but the choice of techniques is somewhat dependent on really understanding the child.

    3. Thanks for the tips SAC. Is he in a mainstream school? Sounds like they have incredible resources. Harri is n mainstream, so about 25 kids in the class. They provide all sorts of accommodations but none of them seem to help. He just doesn't want to be there and is increasingly defiant.

    4. He is in a mainstream school, but he is in a "segregated" class room.

      I've learned that accommodations only work if they target the child's actual needs. Unfortunately, many school staff approach deciding what accommodations to use based on what they typically provide. This approach doesn't really work.

      A while back, I edited a book that might be helpful. You can find it here: The author is experienced in the U.S. special education system, but the book was published by an U.K. publishing company. So while there are direct references to U.S. laws, it's written to be applicable in the international community. The premise of the book is to teach people how to collaborate effectively with school systems by exploring what worked, what didn't, and why for particular families/schools.

      Editing this book (and talking with the author) gave me the skill I needed to change Ben's program effectively. Reading it might help you work with the school system so Harri can get the services he needs instead of the ones they want to provide.

    5. Thanks of that link SAC. I think the problem we have with Harri is that it wouldn't matter what environment we put him in, as soon as someone tries to instruct or persuade him he resists. He is inherently oppositional and needs to be in control. I don't know how to get around that challenge.

    6. You don't have to have all the answers. They're supposed to have people with expertise that can help come up with the right answers.