Sometimes, like the comic above, we teach the way we were taught. We teach our students the way our teachers taught us. We try to parent our kids the way our parents raised us.
My parents would yell from across the house and it would get my attention.
PUT THAT DOWN!
DON’T PUT YOUR BROTHER IN THE DRYER!
THAT’S NOT FOOD GET IT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!
I could yell until I was blue in the face and it would not matter at all.
Not with my kids. I learned early on with my kids that you had to change the way you talked to them and that showing worked so much better than telling.
When we moved into our house we were so excited to have a big backyard with a covered patio. The yard had an amazing wooden fence. Addison was four the first time she climbed the six foot high wooden fence in the backyard. After some heated arguments with some really bitter neighbors, we learned that we needed to boards on our side to prevent her from climbing and hurting herself. Once we fixed the fence we thought we had no more climbing issues to worry about. We were wrong! One afternoon, I walked into the backyard and started freaking out because I didn't see Addison anywhere. I checked the gate. It was locked. I yelled for Leah! We checked the house! Gone! We ran back into the yard and heard her stemming. We looked up and sure enough, she was on top of the house! Our 4-year-old climbed the beams on the patio and was sitting on the roof. We were freaking out! Scrambling like cartoon characters for a ladder. Plus, we were yelling! Lots of yelling. Just like our parents would have done.
Addison get down!
Addison you are going to fall and break your legs.
Get down if people see you they will come and take you away.
How did you get up there?
Please come down!!!!!
We yelled. We screamed. We pleaded. Addison just sat there and looked at us. We got out a ladder and I used my best version of a fireman’s carry to get Addy off the roof. Our kids taught us a lesson Yoda had taught Luke Skywalker almost thirty years before us. “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
We had to unlearn what we had learned about parenting. What had worked for our parents, was not working for us as parents. We were saying too much! Addison was not hearing everything we said. A lot of kids with autism can’t follow multistep directions. Which means, the more we were saying, the less she was hearing. So if we wanted her to listen we had to change the way we spoke to her.
- Good: Addison feet on the ground.
- Bad: ADDISONGETDOWNOFFTHEROOFYOUAREGOINGTOBREAKYOURNECKAGGHHHH!!!!!
For our kids we had to really think about what we wanted them to do and say just the important words. We focused on the nouns and verbs when giving directions. Anything extra was confusing to them. This worked for us for a while because like I said earlier we teach the way we were taught. Over time, we found an even more effective way to teach kids like ours. We showed and demonstrated more than we told. A lot of kids with autism are very visual learners. We found that the more we modeled by doing or with pictures and video the more helpful it was to them. Imagine you are in a grocery store trying to choose a line to check out in. Would you go to each register and ask the cashier if their line is the shortest? No, you would use your eyes and decide which line is the shortest.
Don’t fall into the same trap when you are teaching kids. Don’t teach the same way you were taught. Unlearn what you have learned. Teach in a way that speaks to the students you have.
Think about when you give instructions. Do you say too much? I know I did. I use to rattle off some really silly things that made my job even harder.
Who is talking in my line? (No student ever said, “It was me. I am going to go ahead and drop my card when we get back to class.”)
When you give instructions be direct. Speak to the students who need the instruction. Use the verbs and the nouns and take everything else out. The longer YOU speak, the less they are listening.
In your class use as many pictures as possible. Create a visual schedule to go alongside your class agenda. When you are discussing vocabulary words, find images that are associated with that word. Let your students explain the connections between the images and the words. Let your students create videos to demonstrate your classroom procedures. Demonstrate and role plays more than you talk and describe.
I was at a conference one year and the lady leading my class dropped some serious Yoda like knowledge on me. I can’t remember her name. She was wise. She spoke her mind. She was short. She was kind of wrinkly. She was hilarious and charismatic. She was a lot like Yoda. So for argument's sake let’s just call her Mrs. Yoda.
This is how the conversation went down word for word… or it is at least how I remember it.
- Mrs. Yoda- How old are you?
- Me- 35 (it was a long long time ago)
- Mrs. Yoda- been to college have you?
- Me- Yes
- Mrs. Yoda- Master’s Degree have you not?
- Me- Yes
- Mrs. Yoda- Good good for you. But, nothing know you. This much you know…
She held her index finger and thumb less than a half an inch away from each other.
Mrs. Yoda- Me. Nine hundred years old I am. Training Jedi for hundreds of years in six different galaxies. Me? This much I know.
She held her fingers apart just a little bit more.
Yoda- Think you must about those nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds that you teach. All this experience and time under our belts we have, yet know so little do we. How much do they know? They will have to be told again & again & again. Then, when you think they got it, they don’t. Tell them again you must. Be patient with them. Keep it simple, direct, and show them more than you tell.
Toby Price is a father of three, an autism dad and Principal of Richland Upper Elementary. You can find him on twitter @JediPadmaster. He likes to tweet about Autism, Parenting, Education, Star Wars, Comics, Puppets & other Super Serious things.