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Bookshelves and Tables and Desks, Oh My!

That was what I saw when I was called to school for my 5 year old son with Autism. He had just transitioned from an Autism pre-school class and into the school district. Needless to say, the transition was not the best. This was a time when there were no classes specifically designated for children on the spectrum in my school district. It was the first year that the school was flooded with an entire classroom of students transitioning from the County’s Autism Early Intervention Program. In preparation, the school identified a lead teacher for the class and she began training in the Autism class during the previous school year. She even worked there for the summer. With all of this preparation, I anticipated this to be a good year for my son. The first week of school was underway. I’m on pins and needles waiting to see how he does in the new environment. On Friday, I received word from the Principal that the teacher quit! Yes, I said that - she quit! All that training and optimism down the drain! Now, not only was he in a new environment, but there was no teacher in a classroom of about a dozen 5 year olds on the spectrum. Can we say, “Crash and Burn!!” Another teacher was sent in two weeks later. She quit before winter break. Then another came after that. While there were bodies in place, none had teaching experience working with children on the spectrum. Needless to say, every time there was an issue, I was called. This particular time, when I arrived to the classroom, all of the children had been evacuated. Evacuated – that is the term that is used. It’s as if there was a natural disaster or something. Actually, from the looks of the classroom, there very well could have been a massive hurricane or tornado. Desks were toppled over, bookshelves were on the floor and piles of books covered the floor. Toy shelves were turned over and toys were everywhere! The look on the teacher’s face was sheer terror mixed with sadness and frustration. In the back corner of the room sat my little boy with tears streaming down his face. I made a B-line for him, got on the floor with him and swooped him up in my arms. I wiped his tears and said, “Let’s clean up.” He helped put the toys back in their baskets and on the shelves. Helped me to stand the desks back upright. Picked up the paper and pencils that had fallen from the desks. After cleaning up, it was the end of the school day, so I took him home. Because he had limited language at the time, he was unable to tell me what happened. All I know is something triggered him and an explosion is what followed. This was the first, but not the last time this happened. I wish I could say that I knew exactly why it happened each time, but I don’t. As a parent, I wanted to know what was the cause of this incident. What was done or not done that could have prevented this. The only thing that I did know was that the teachers were not equipped with the appropriate proactive and reactive strategies to minimize the frequency of these types of events.

As a BCBA and a professional Autism Service Provider, I can say that I have witnessed explosions and meltdowns occur many times with the children that I serve. Even with implementing all the tools, proactive and reactive strategies, and positive reinforcement, meltdowns are bound to happen. There are always new variables in the environment that trigger responses in an unpredictable way. In those cases, pointing fingers and finding blame might not be the path that leads you toward solutions. Sometimes, the best thing to do is roll up your sleeves and help clean up. Work together with your child’s team. Show them the compassion and understanding that you want in return. In this way, the next time there is a hurricane, you already have a team that is ready and willing to help.

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