Boy with Autism teaches me

This week has been a huge learning experience for me.  I am leading a class for vacation Bible school at our church, and I have 21 students.  I take these young children around to different stations such as crafts, Bible time, games, snacks, and music.  I have one student who has autism.  I have been learning about this young boy, but I do know from my education background that not all children with the same disability fit neatly into a box.  Each person with autism is an individual with specific abilities and strengths.  However, I wanted to share what I learned and what worked for me.

1. I learned Tim (I changed his name for privacy) is very observant and hangs back as the large group is doing a music activity.  I encourage him to join, and he stays nearby but distant.  He takes in everything that is going on.  When he didn't want to participate, I asked him to let me know if the children were doing what they were supposed to do and report back to me.  Tim let me know everything was going fine.  He was included in his own way.

2.  I winked at Tim, and at first he thought I was silly.  At the end of the second day, he told me that he didn't like it when I winked.  I told him to choose what I could do to respond to him.  Thumbs up? Wave?  High five?  He chose to do have me give him high fives.  Tomorrow, we are doing a different signal, and I am having him think about it overnight.  This gives him ownership and also gives me a way to build a positive relationship with him.

3.  He was quite attentive during Bible story time and retold the story with the message.  He grasped the deeper concept.  He likes to talk to me without a lot of people around and will open up quite verbally.  He's quite inquisitive and uses high vocabulary.  He wondered what the snack represented, which was impressive that he was just as interested in the symbolism as the snack.

4.  Snack time.  That brings up something that surprised me.  Tim got a sneak peak at what the snacks were.  When it came time for him to get a snack, he didn't see the one that had the red and white gummy pieces on it.  He went to a corner and sat down crying.  I went to the kitchen and found a white gummy.  I gave it to him and let him put it with the snack.  He then had three pieces.  I felt it was okay to allow a little thing like this.  For some reason, he liked the red and white.  It wasn't a big deal to let him have a white one, and it prevented a power struggle. And for some reason, he was fixated on the snack with red and white.  I believe in picking my battles.  Some things are minor enough to make allowances.

5.  I learned that loud, screechy noises bother Tim.  I told him if there is a loud noise, then cover your ears before it's coming to muffle the sound.  This helped.  And, I knew that this is normal and wanted to be sensitive to the things that bother him.

6.  Tim observed the game time today and wondered what everyone was doing.  He was quite content watching and smiling at the other children as they played.  Yet, there was part of the time when he did participate. Sometimes, it is okay to stay back until one knows what is happening. And, by halfway through this week, I saw Tim moving and doing the motions to the music at music time.  Forcing it wouldn't have worked, but encouragement and a little nudging was fine.  He gradually became more of a participant than an observer part of the time.  Each little step of progress was a gain for him.

7. Tim suddenly disappeared from our room.  I felt my heart race in panic because I have worked with special needs children in elementary and knew that sometimes they wandered out of the school building.  I was so scared where he could be.  Come to find out, he went to the bathroom.  Whew!!  Not all children do wander off.  I made a hasty judgement, thinking the worst out of fear for his safety. And, I learned he isn't one to take off at his age.

But, one thing I learned was that with work, time, and growth, Tim has made great gains in his self-discipline, social situations, and trustworthiness.  He has had the support and work of a great school and family who deeply care about him and love him.  The school has the research of methods that are effective for educating and helping Tim, but the family has been a strong force in reinforcing strategies and getting the support they need to best meet his individual needs.  Bringing out the best in any child takes a partnership with educators, teachers, family, community organizations,and friends.  No one is responsible for all of it.  I was so impressed when I met Tim's grandma.  She loves him unconditionally and has his best interest at heart.  She has time and attention for him as do his parents.  Phenomenal support system.

Each person is different.  Every child has his own unique personality and challenges,but as parents, teachers, family, we should look at the child as an individual and build on the strengths we see while teaching the child to learn all they can.

The catch is that I knew Tim in kindergarten when I worked in his elementary and used to see him every day at recess.  I knew he used to take off without warning and that it was hard to keep him near the other kids.  I remembered those days and made assumptions.  But, Tim has made great gains (yes, he still has much to learn), and had such growth as a person.  Seeing how time, patience, love, and education enables opportunities for growth and success helps children excel within their own personal abilities.  I am so proud Tim and am glad he has come a long way.  He has taught me so much already this week.  Tim has been a real blessing and shown me a success story of a boy with autism.  Each step forward is to be celebrated.  Wishing Tim continued growth and success on his own time table.


  1. Hello Rhoda!

    Red and white gummies are very nice.

    And I like the way you observe as Tim observes.

    Tim's observation of the children behaving reminded me of "Good with the good; bad with the bad" - or maybe - as it is Vacation Bible School - "sheep and goats".

    And I trust Tim. Lots of people go to the bathroom to take a sensory break or a social break as they find it is acceptable.

    "Bringing out the best in any child takes a partnership with educators, teachers, family, community organizations,and friends. No one is responsible for all of it. I was so impressed when I met Tim's grandma. She loves him unconditionally and has his best interest at heart."

    I wondered what Tim remembers of you and that time when you would see him every day. And if he trusted you.

    "A little nudging is fine" as you said in point 6.

    "Participant and spectator" is an important part of my practice and there are lots of British psycholinguistics who theorise on this.

    That screechy frequency!

    Glad you and Tim were able to learn together.

    Continued growth and success to you...

    1. Thank you. I have a heart for all with disabilities and personally don't like the labels. You taught me something. I didn't think about the bathroom break as a social break or sensory break because he took a long time. Would that be a way of handling over stimulation because it was always during music time? Just a thought.


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