Monthly Archives: May 2014

Dear Math Teacher

Dear Math Teacher,

You asked me: “Why are you in this class? You must have other subjects you are good at. Why are you taking my course when you are not a “math” student?

You seem offended that I did not take your advice in grade 11 when you suggested that I not take senior math. But, with all due respect sir, I learned early on not to pay a lot of attention to what people said I could not do.

When I was really young I could not talk and I was afraid of everything. I screamed and cried a lot. My parents learned that I had severe autism and that many things would be very hard for me: speaking, reading, writing, math, interacting with others, showing empathy, and even taking care of myself.

My parents loved me enough to get me good doctors and great therapists. They practiced all my new skills with me and loved me when I was hard to love. I was expected to practice my skills, to never stop trying and to never let my autism define me.

My teachers saw my strengths and worked with me to develop my weaknesses. They taught me to think for myself, ask for help and never give up when learning was hard. The kids in my class were patient with me. They allowed me to be who I am. I learned how to be a friend because the kids never gave up on me.

I learned to talk, read, write, and develop good friendships. I learned to take care of myself and others. I swam competitively for 6 years despite the fact that I spent the first years of swim lessons refusing to put my body in the pool. I play in two music bands despite the fact that I could never learn music theory. I have won awards for sportsmanship and leadership despite the fact that I was socially detached from people when I was young.

I am in grade 12 now. I am well on my way to graduating from high school and going to prom with a beautiful girl. I will go to university. I still have autism.
But it did not define me.

I would appreciate it if you would show me the respect of not defining what I can or cannot do. Do not make assumptions based on what you think you know about me. I ask that you consider building relationships with your students with those who are not ‘math kids’ rather than seeing them as an annoyance to your course. You insist we come for help but your judgments of us deny us a safe place to ask questions and admit our weakness.

I worked hard to earn my credit in math. After school I learn with a different math teacher who assures me that I am in fact capable of doing math. He takes the time to examine my ways of thinking and to teach from my strengths. He is patient, warm and I trust him. I work with students who are willing to look beyond my ‘inability’ and actually find my ability to think mathematically.

I will not be choosing to study math in university. I know that my strengths lie in other areas. But, as I graduate from high school I am proud that I ignored your ignorant, humiliating and demeaning comments. I may not have earned a high average but I passed and I DID learn the skills I was taught to the best of my ability. I can leave high school with the confidence of knowing that I didn’t quit when I was told it would be wise to do so.


Your tenacious student

get better

I Can’t Decide! Helping Kids with Autism Make Decisions

Sometimes I just can’t decide!

Temple Grandin has shared that the process of making decisions is difficult and she, like many others, will avoid decision-making. Research supports Temple’s difficulty. Studies have shown that for folks with autism decision making is linked to anxiety and   decision-making-processes1 (1)exhaustion.

Exasperated teachers and parents describe children who won’t choose an activity, a character, or a topic for fear of getting it ‘wrong.’ Being asked to make decisions will result in crying, angry outbursts or defiance. It seems that no amount of reassurance will ease the apprehensive feelings that making decisions, even insignificant ones, create for some individuals with autism.

How can we help?

  • Start with narrowing the number of options available. Instead of offering four or five options, provide two possibilities for a treat, two topics to write about or two activities to play. Avoid wide open choices such as, “choose a topic.”
  • Visually show the choices to the individual using written words, the item or pictures of the option.
  • With the student, make a list of an assortment of choices that are made daily (clothes, breakfast, TV, attitude, words, shoes and so on). Include small insignificant choices and bigger more important choices in your list.
  • Together discuss the difference between BIG and SMALL decisions. How do we make each type of decision? Discuss which one of the two categories each decision would go under. This helps demonstrate the types of decisions and which ones require more thought and time.
  • Teach the individual how to flip a coin for small decisions. This is especially helpful when all else fails and the process is sucking the life out of the home or classroom).
  • Make the options plausible and avoid using punishment as an option (Turn off the computer now or go to bed is really NOT teaching any decision making skills).

A colleague reported that flipping a coin was a huge breakthrough after nothing else seemed to calm the student’s fears and tears over having to make choices. Flipping a coin works for quick decision making: choosing a writing topic, picking a character to write
about, milk or juice, Lego or Thomas™ and so on.

Be clear that if the individual does not make a choice, the teacher or parent WILL make the choice for him. Follow through is critical. No waffling allowed!

Teaching our children HOW to make choices and how to cope with the consequences of our decisions is a skill that will make a huge impact on their ability to adapt and function as an adult. We need to find a balance between overwhelming our youth with autism with decisions and making all of the choices for them.

Happy Decision Making!  😆




Copyright 2014Jennifer Krumins

When All Else Fails: Using Tactical Ignoring Effectively

What do you do when you have utterly exhausted solution you know for tricky behaviour problems?

There comes a time when we have taken all the steps necessary to determine what an individual’s behaviour might be communicating. We are on the verge of pulling our hair out.  Nothing we change is working to decrease the silliness, crying, nose picking, spitting, screaming and/or lying on the floor.

There is one tool left in your toolbox. It just might be the game changer- if it is used sparingly and expertly.

It is called: IGNORING. Yep. That’s it.

To be sure, this is not just any ignoring. No, this is the ‘PLANNED IGNORE or TACTICAL IGNORING.’  It is executed well when we resist any urges to look at, chime in, respond, or even chastise the actions of a student or child.

Truth told this kind of ignoring is hard to do! The first thing that will happen – the behaviour you were trying to decrease – will increase. The screaming will get louder, crying will become more dramatic, the silliness will go off the charts. Yes, even the cat-ignores-dogspitting will hit a new high.

Once you start to ignore an attention seeking or well developed behaviour, DO NOT ATTEND unless you plan to see the behaviour for a LONG time! I have to tell you that even the thought of the slightest attention being given at this point makes me shiver! J

So what should you do? Fold laundry, pretend to work or read uninterrupted. Fake it if you must. Stay close enough to monitor the child’s safety and distant enough that you appear to have zero interest in what the child is doing.

If necessary, in the calmest and unaffected voice possible ask others to leave the room. Otherwise, do not speak. Do not smile. Avoid eye contact and facial expressions. Do not engage whatsoever with the individual performing the action.

Even after the actions begin to diminish, stay calm and uninterested. This is not the time to talk, lecture or even smile. If cleaning needs to be done, be sure to give enough calming time for the child. Then, in a quiet, calm, unemotional voice (or in a written note/picture) indicate in the fewest words possible: clean up please.

That is it. No need to say or do anything more. If you give attention to the behaviour afterward be ready for a bigger, uglier version of it next time.

The behaviour is probably not extinguished yet. But, given some time and a consistent ignore response the crying/screaming/silliness/spitting should get shorter and increasingly mild until it disappears altogether because it is ineffective in getting your attention. Behaviour is only used consistently when it gets us what we want.

I should warn you though, the message could come back…in another behaviour!  🙄