10 months ago



Ernest 153 only for a

Ernest 153 only for a very limited time. At best, it allows the school an opportunity to cool off and gain some breathing space. There are few if any positive outcomes for the child. Suspension deprives the child of the opportunity to benefit from being with other children in a “normal” environment. Also, it does not work as a deterrent. Instead, it often acts to maintain the disruptive behavior because the children learn that if they misbehave they can go home and play on the computer or watch TV. For young children with autism and AS, there is a real advantage to being in an environment with other typically developing children: It provides them with the opportunity to learn appropriate social and communication skills in a natural setting. Several studies have demonstrated the benefit of peer tutors for children with ASD. In these demonstration projects, the peers interact with the child with ASD in a supervised way under the direction of a therapist, who ensures that the activities are fun and that there are opportunities for social interaction and communication. The children with ASD can be involved in many aspects of social play appropriate to their developmental level and communication skills. Even being the center of a game such as ”Ring around the Rosie” can teach the child with ASD to enjoy being close to other children rather than actively avoiding them. As a side benefit, peer tutoring gives typical children even more opportunity to be with classmates who have special needs, an experience that fosters the development of empathy and caring—an experience denied to them if the child with ASD is suspended the moment that disruptive behavior arises. Peer interaction that benefits both the typical children and those with ASD can take place at home too; children with ASD who have younger sisters are especially lucky, since sisters are usually eager to include their older sibling in play and games. Families lucky to have lots of cousins or who live on streets with lots of children can easily take advantage of these opportunities for exposing their child with ASD to social interactions,. The more exposure a child with ASD has to social interaction, the more the opportunity to gain social and communication skills. Such activities have led to demonstrated gains in social and communication skills for some children with ASD. Other children with ASD may not yet have some of the very basic social or attending skills necessary to benefit, however, and in that case more one-on-one therapy with an adult (see Chapter 9) will be needed to prepare them for more naturalistic learning environments. In the same way that suspension usually is not a disincentive for a

154 A MIND APART child with ASD, parents learn that isolation in their rooms or extended time-outs, strategies that usually work well with typical children, do not work with children with ASD. Time-outs are good for parent relief, no doubt, and that is a worthwhile goal to be sure, but parents should not think by doing this they are teaching the child with ASD to “behave.” Some children with ASD learn to use aggression as a way of avoiding difficult situations, and to suspend them—or to send them to timeout in their room—only teaches them that they can escape these difficulties. If a child finds some academic activity difficult, whether it’s listening to someone read from a book, sitting in a circle surrounded by other kids, or doing math problems, it may be easier to bop the teaching assistant than to do the assignment. Suspending Ernest provided only temporary relief for his teacher and caused other problems for Ernest. Alternative solutions would have been more effective in dealing with the aggression as well as benefiting his overall social skills. Ernest enjoyed going to school each morning, and it had become a regular part of his routine. The other children liked playing with him and were protective toward him. They had no trouble handling Ernest; they left him alone if he was cranky and helped him if he was responsive to their ministrations. They could recognize his subtle communications more easily than his teachers, who were often too busy following the lesson plan to pay attention to his nonverbal messages of distress and frustration. Ernest’s parents were also sensitive to these clues, and as a result, there was much less disruptive behavior at home. When Ernest was finally allowed to return to school in the fall, however, he had a difficult time. His routine had been disrupted by the suspension, his opportunity to practice his social and communication skills had been reduced dramatically, and he was now treated in a guarded fashion by his teachers. Going to school was much less fun than before, and he was clearly unhappy, as it was more and more difficult for his mother to get him off to school in the morning; he would dawdle getting dressed, then resist going out the door and onto the school bus. As behavior management strategies, suspension and “taking control” are poor options and represent desperate remedies that should be avoided if at all possible. In Ernest’s case, the aggressive behavior could have been easily prevented in the first place. It was simply a matter of taking a different perspective. The key to dealing with aggression is not to focus on the aggression and violence, however difficult that might be,

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