I recently provided a full day seminar to a small group of school based professionals. During questions and answers, one of the educators asked me how I would suggest they handle the following situation:
“A boy with autism in the 5th grade is sitting in class while the teacher lectures on the heart. With his pencil, the boy taps the rhythm of a beating heart on his desk. The teacher repeatedly asks him to stop. When he does not, the teacher refuses to continue with lesson and boy is asked to leave the class.”
Answers to these types of questions are easy. Even so, I rarely answer them. Instead I ask questions to help the person asking reach the answer on their own. So, I asked the educator, “What do you think the boy was communicating to you by tapping his pencil?”
The educator said she felt the boy was bored, and perhaps “Trying to get out of class”. I challenged this notion by asking whether she thought boy was “wanting attention” or “wanting to get away”. The educator said she felt that he was in fact trying to get attention. Once she concluded that she did feel the boy was seeking attention, she then said, “I know, attention seeking behaviours should be ignored”. Her conclusion was completely correct. But inclusion means thinking outside the ABC’s of behaviour.
My area is inclusion, not behaviour, my answer is a little different. Here was my answer, “Learning about the heart is likely a pretty boring thing for most 5th graders. Perhaps this student was tapping his pencil to remain well regulated and process the information, or perhaps this student was tapping his pencil to seek attention. Unless we ask him and he can tell us, we will never know for sure. From the point of view of inclusion, let’s view the pencil tapping as the student seeking attention. Here is what I would have done. I would have said, ‘Our friend [John] is tapping the rhythm of a heart beat with his pencil. That is very cool John, great idea. Everyone pick up your pencil and let’s see if we can all tape a heart beat together’.
If the student is seeking attention, then let’s give him attention. But positive, not negative attention. Attention that ensures his classmates see him in a positive light. Attention that ensures his self-esteem is boosted not diminished.
Inclusion is a verb that requires an action. That action means thinking outside the ABC’s of behaviour and turning pencil tapping into an inclusion activity.
Want to learn more? Join us Feb 24th for Demystifying the Classroom