Adam is a gentle 14 year old boy that I have known since the age of 3, right around the time he was diagnosed as having High Functioning Autism (HFA). Academically, Adam is excelling with some support from his school, his tutors, a private counselor, an OT and speech therapy in the form of social skills support. To us he is doing exceptionally well, except he truly is NOT. Adam’s social struggles is not apparent to most, because he has been taught to mimic the social behaviors of others by way of scripting. A social script is a short narrative written in first person to help one learn how to cope in problem situation. When Adam was younger and most of his behaviors were common knowledge among his peers, simply scripting incidents for Adam worked well. However, now that he is in high school, social relationships are a lot more complex. Everyone is looking at themselves through the lenses of their peers. High school is full of hidden agendas and it is very complex to navigate even for an average teenager.
Adam recently had an incident that required the parents to call an IEP meeting. During the meeting, a well-meaning team member voiced that the parents needed to come to terms with who Adam is and not expect that the world will continuously cater to Adam. According to his parents, Adam has been silently struggling at school, some kids are friendly to him and others teasingly refer to him as corky. Adam shared with his family that he does not feel like he belongs and does not feel comfortable voicing his confusion to his teachers. After the meeting, Adam’s mother pulled me aside sobbing and asked if she was expecting too much from the team. She questioned her judgment in putting him in the school and wanted to know if it was better to home school him. This one was tough! I could not answer, and I honestly could not think of the right response. I took permission to ask Adam his feelings about the school and his experiences. I asked why he had not reached out for help from me or other people working with him. In Adam’s eyes he thought we would be disappointed in him. He felt ashamed of failing and most importantly Adam felt pressured to succeed, because we had all been praising him on how well he had transition into high school.
Adam shared that because of his anxiety of not wanting peers to reject him, he was willing to put up with kids and “their silly name callings” so that he could be their friend. He knew they did not really know or understand him. I worked with Adam on ways to discuss his concerns with his counselor. Adam was also invited to his second IEP follow up meeting to share with the staff what he liked and did not like about the school. He chose to stay in the school and the school added him to their student social cognitive class, taught by an SLP. My experience working with Adam taught me that sometimes, we unknowingly put pressure on kids when we do not clearly define our expectations. I shifted my narrative from telling Adam that I was so proud of his successes to carefully defining what true success meant. I worked with Adam in recognizing how important his emotions were to everyone. We created personal scripts for emotional success. We are almost at the end of the school year and Adam by his definition is feeling “cool.” He has joined two clubs and has connected with one other student.
What I learned from this experience, is that as educators, we play a significant role in being allies to families by reserving our judgments. Additionally, even though the law requires that we provide inclusive learning environment, it is not inclusive, if the person does not feel that they belong. We can go beyond accommodating students, to accepting and welcoming them and their families by truly hearing and doing our best to understand. We must try to go above and beyond the law, especially since not all disabled students feel comfortable enough to come to us. Take time to check in with the family, don’t wait for the IEP call. When we listen with the intent to hear, a lot can happen.
How Can SLPs Help?
- SLPs may be able to best support students with communication disorders by assuring these students that it is okay to talk about bullying and that school personnel want to help and support them.
- Make it a priority to seek out and understand why some children that have HFA are not in your social cognitive group and if they need the program work with the team to get them into the program.
- If your school does not have a bully program, work with your team to create one.
- If a child reports that he or she is being bullied, thank the child for reporting the bullying.
- Alert the appropriate person at school and follow up with the child.
- As clinicians we recognize that some students, especially those with pragmatic language disorders or ASD, may be viewed as chronic “tattlers” in that they repeatedly inform teachers and school staff of rule breaking by peers. Create a visual scale and script that shows that student what is bullying, Why it is bullying, how bullying starts. Work with the student to recognize when to report problems.
About the Author: Uduak (Udie) Osom, was one of those students who entered college searching for her calling. In 1990, she discovered that her passion was in helping others. As the saying goes, “The rest is history.” In 1992, Udie graduated with her bachelor’s degree in communication disorders and science. In 1997, she received her Master’s degree in communication disorders and science from San Jose State University. She has more than 20 years of experience working with children with various disabilities. Udie is very passionate about neuro-developmental disabilities and social-cognitive disabilities. In 2000, she developed a social skills program that pairs typical developing students with students diagnosed with social cognitive disabilities (Autism, Pragmatic Language, ADD etc). She went on to develop a secondary program “All for 3’s.” Her other specialty is Pediatric Feeding Disorder, emphasis in premature babies and kids. Udie has worked as a consultant for several schools, conducted numerous workshops for schools, written and published articles. Visit Innovative Therapy Services to Learn About Our Program