As a resource specialist in public education, I often work with students at the middle school level. This is a tough time in development as children are learning more about who they are and developing awareness of how they are viewed by their peers.
Recently, one of my students has been having difficulty in his general education classes. He is very bright and gifted in many ways, except being social.
One trigger for him is when other students step in to tell him something (missing directions). For example, students in the class were to creating an assignment for their communication arts class and this student had just spoken to the teacher and learned how to turn on his mike for the audio. He noticed that my student was making the same mistake and made an attempt to help him. What resulted was an emotional outburst from my student, “You can’t tell me what to do!” My student missed that the other student knew something that he did not know and that his intent was to be helpful.
On the flip side, my student has difficulty asking for help and often gets upset when he doesn’t feel he can do something. He misses that he may not have all the answers or may need more information to clarify the teacher’s expectations.
For those of us who are neuro-typical, meaning we have an automatic social radar, we understand the concept behind different perspectives, with each person having their individual perceptions and understandings based on their experiences. What is tough for individuals like my student in this story is that he does not know that he has been identified has having some communication limitations (autism) and yet, being a 7th grader in public education he is beginning to develop an awareness that he is relating in a different way than his peers. I’ve started the tough conversation with parents about talking to him about his challenges. Their response is that they don’t want him to feel different than everyone else. It’s not about being different it is about naturally communicating differently, his mind is wired to communicate differently, with the understanding he will develop the capacity to increase his social communication.
However, he is beginning to develop an awareness that his reactions are different than others. As we work with him in developing social awareness and monitoring his emotional responses to the world around him, he is making the connections.
My heart goes out to him and his families as they try to navigate this topic. How can we shift our thinking and our perceptions of each other? My thought is that we (society) have become so overloaded with information that we miss the language needed to clearly communicate with each other. For some of us, we have the ability to fill in the gaps and can infer other’s intentions so we take for granted everyone else can too. Maybe we call all pause for a moment and reflect on our communication and speak clearly our intentions to one another. The dialogue could shift to “hey I just found out from the teacher how to turn on the mic, do you want me to show you? ” instead of “you need to turn your mic on”.
If we could communicate with love and compassion we can help others be free to be who they are and we can all have a greater capacity to connect.