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We are more alike than different – Part 2

“You didn’t assume that just because I did not learn to communicate through normal means, I was incapable of learning how to communicate, laugh, cry, love, work and play.”

I came across this quote while reading up on a book on Applied Behavioral Analysis and this somehow struck a chord in my heart. 

For me, everyday is just like a guessing game with my students. As some of you know, I am being allocated in the vocational track of the school, which involves students who are impaired academically, and hence unable to deal with the academic load of a mainstream school. This track involves a mix of high and low functioning children with ASD. The students learn functional english and math, which is focused on the things to help them survive the load of the real world, and not learn useless stuff like differentiation and integration or calculus, as if we would use algebra to guess the prices of oranges in the market. In addition to that, they also have lessons in their various worksites such as hard floor cleaning, housekeeping and baking to get them certificates so that it would get them prepared for the workforce in the future. 

I am currently attached to a particular class in the track, and also to a boy called… Hmm, let’s name him K, who is also in my class. K has a problem with inappropriate touching, because for people with ASD they tend to have problems in the sensitivity of their senses. They either experience hyper (over) or hypo (under) sensitivity in one of their 7 senses, namely sight, hearing, smell, tactile (touch), taste, vestibular and proprioception. I’m sure the main 5 senses are self-explanatory. Vestibular sense refers to one’s sensitivity to movement, which is needed for our balance, as well as a sense of the location of our heads and bodies in relation to other parts of our body and the ground. A child with a hypersensitive response to vestibular stimulation may refuse to move much, while those with a hyposensitive response tend to be labeled as “hyperactive” as they may be constantly on the move, and there are students who are seen spinning on the spot every few minutes, or the classic symptom of the rocking of the body we know from people with ASD. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense one’s body position in relation to other objects, in simpler terms, our body awareness. This is not limited to one’s knowledge of his body position, but also involves things like knowing how fast we are moving, or how much strength we are exerting on a particular object. Similarly, I have students who just dash around in school, running into walls on purpose, and K has the problem of writing really hard, and breaking pencils while writing, and making use of me to sharpen his pencils once every 5 minutes. 

Anyway, back to K. He is, from what I observe, a hyposensitivity in his sense of touch. He loves touching things, for example, on our way up to class, you will observe him touching every railing in sight, closing all the lockers he sees, and the most troubling part is the touching of others. Thankfully not inappropriately, but still, it would not be very functional for one to have the tendency to touch strangers on their hands continuously. Moreover, due to his lack of tactile sense, he loves the sensation of tearing papers, and this is a huge headache because he’s not allowed to read books as a result, and in class, he would tear up his art work and worksheets. It’s very tough trying to deal with K during lessons because he’s so destructive, and his need to touch people means I have to babysit him from 740am to 2pm. I have to flash my cue cards saying “HANDS TO SELF” every minute, or have to repeatedly write the instructions, 

1) Listen to instructions
2) Hands to Self
3) Quiet Mouth

The worse part? He doesn’t always get you. He would just echo after you and continue doing what you ask him to stop doing. People with ASD tend to have this problem with echolalia, and K has a huge problem with that. He echoes everything I say and repeats them for 10x or more without understanding it, so it’s basically as good as not talking to him. There are a lot more problems that I’ve yet to get to with him, but anyway, my point was, I had a very difficult time communicating with K and trying to get him to listen to me in the first week. It was very daunting because my teachers were constantly pushing him into my care, because they are so fed up with his habit of touching, and every time he touches any one I’d get those kinda “imma kill you muthafucker” stares by my teachers.

Despite the daunting attempts in my communication with him, I just felt very drawn towards this boy. It’s because of him, I started doing research on ABA, trying to understand how to communicate with people like him, however to no avail. However, the thing I’ve learned is that, no matter what the books teach you, or what your seniors tell you, the best way to deal with any student with ASD, in fact, with anyone, is to build a relationship with them, and learn what how to get through to them. This is probably why K listens to me these days 70% of the time as compared to almost never to the other teachers, and I’m the only teacher he doesn’t grab and touch anymore. Ok maybe I’m not attractive to him. Hahahaha! But yeah. It’s all about building a safe base of trust, before taking any step further to deal with his other issues. 

I used the quote above because this week, I was genuinely surprised by K. For the past month, I just always thought that he was basically in his own world, just doing what he wants because he always ignores what I say, and doesn’t give a shit about any one being angry with him. One day, while I was watching him draw during PE, because he hates PE (& I managed to get him to do 1/4 of PE on Thursday and 1/2 of it today. #achievementunlocked), he loves to draw, or rather only knows how to draw birds and fishes. All the types of birds and fishes he know, which is pretty extensive, all looks the same. I tried asking him to draw me something else for the past month, but he hadn’t budged. However, in this week, I went, “K, please draw a pig, i want a pig please please please” He refused and then heaved a sigh, and actually drew a pig for me. (and thereafter messed it all up and tore up everything) In the end, he emptied out the pen I lent it to him to doodle, and I was trying to guilt trip him by being upset and complaining that I had no more pens (WHICH IS A FACT). I was not expecting a response for him because he always ignore or echoes me and then does his own stuff. That was exactly what he did, he started telling me irrelevant stuff which I did not understand (as usual) and suddenly stood up, and said, Ms C, you no sad ok? No sad! Happy? and then offered me one of his pens. I nearly melted into a pile of I don’t know what. That sense of happiness was indescribable, and after I said, no lah, I no sad, he immediately just said ok, go toilet, and walked off. BUT STILL. It meant a lot. 

I’ve still a hell lot of experiences to share with you guys, but that’s it for K today because I have a report to write right now before heading to the gym!

& to everyone I have and would meet in school, I just have one philosophy to live by when interacting with you guys, “I can’t take the pain away from you, but I can and I will journey it with you“. So that’s all for now folks! 

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