I was observing one of my student teachers in an inclusion classroom yesterday, when I heard a familiar voice. “I CAN’T. I CAN’T. This is something I CAN”T DO!”, in a very particular, sing-songy voice. The intonations were ones that I hear often at home when I ask my daughter to do something she doesn’t want to do- clean her room, put away her clothes, brush her hair. It’s not a particularly confrontational voice, almost a whine. But there’s an element of music or rhythm behind it. It’s when I know that she’s wanting attention, she’s feeling slightly overwhelmed, she’s nowhere near a meltdown, but is trying to manipulate me into believing that she is. I typically laugh with her when she does it. Just hearing it was enough to bring a smile to my face.
But this was NOT my child- this was another little girl- and I had a moment of instant recognition- of the voice, the manipulation, the humor behind it. I whispered to the “real” teacher who was also in the classroom, “Autism?” and she, laughing as well, nodded. We exchanged amused glances. My poor student, who was being OBSERVED, was in a panic, and was trying desparately to calm her down. “Of course you can. Here…” and proceeded to give her a sentence that she happily copied down. Mission accomplished.
I was struck by a couple of things: first of all, the similarity of tones. I KNEW that tone of my daughter, but hadn’t recognized it as one of her “autistic” moments- I just thought that it was her own unique form of whining.
Secondly, the amazing ability to manipulate that both little girls can demonstrate. So many times, it is easy to assume that because a child has a difference, they are living in the moment. Both of these children can control their environment, get what they want, by using their differences to “scare” someone else. That takes a certain amount of intellect and ability to perceive other’s perspectives to manipulate. It’s quite a step forward!
And thirdly, the shared humor that both the teacher and I had, as we recognized how masterfully this little girl was pulling it off. She and I both have reached the point where we can “call” kids on their behavior, and let the child know that we’re not falling for it, in a way that builds rapport, rather than destroys it. We both wanted so badly to step in and say “Oh right- of course you can” and then ask the questions that would get her to do it on her own. In education, we call it “scaffolding”. But we were in an observer role and couldn’t step in.
My student teacher? She’ll get there, too. I just have to scaffold the experience for her as well so that she can realize how incredibly smart kids are- especially kids with differences- and to laugh while teaching.