Recently I co-presented to a group of teachers to share some of my experiences with living in the world, being neurologically atypical. I touched on experiences which would relate to classroom experiences for neurologically atypical students. In doing the presentation I was aware of my challenge of fielding questions teachers might have.
It’s beneficial to structure time for questions so the presentation could be more effective. At the same time, my ABI (acquired brain injury) makes thinking on my feet a real challenge. It’s a skill needed to manage and respond during a question and answer block of time.
There was one question to which I gave a very ineffective response. So I will share here a more effective answer. I realize that it is not unusual for a presenter to wish they could go back and rephrase some of their responses. Likely not to the same degree that I feel the need.
Question: When a student is uncooperative how can a teacher determine whether the child is simply coping with their neurodiversity challenge or whether the child is being defiant?
Initial Response: You don’t always know. As a teacher, as you work with a student you will hopefully gradually figure it out. Hopefully you won’t cause any serious misunderstandings with the student and undermine their trust in you.
Thought out Response: The traditional response to a student who is uncooperative is to give some reasonable reminders and then move into more punitive measures to coerce the student to cooperate within the classroom.
My way of addressing student concerns gradually changed. As I developed in the art of teaching I had settled on one simple classroom rule: Do not disrupt the teaching and learning process. What I found to be most effective was to have the student choose the corrective measures when they were ‘disrupting the teaching / learning process’. Initially when I would ask the student what measures would be helpful I would get various boring responses.
- Make me stay in for the whole recess time
- Make me write lines 25 or 50 times “I must cooperate in class.”
My response to their suggestions would be, “And how will that help you?” Initially they would not have an answer for me. So I would ask them to suggest something that would be helpful. In the end I would ask if a note on their desk with an appropriate reminder would be helpful. If the student had been interrupting other students the note might be “I must wait my turn to talk”.
Once students became familiar with my approach, they understood that it was their job to come up with workable solutions. At times students became quite creative in their strategies.
When students had to decide their own corrective measures they would own it. They were holding themselves accountable.
This method was not intended to be punitive. It was a means to help a student identify what their challenge was. If their challenge was one of attitude, they were committing to working on it. If the behaviour was related to their neurodiversity they became a partner in exploring the means and measures that could help them overcome their challenges or find suitable accommodations.
The accommodations might be a matter of allowing a student to leave the classroom for a break when they needed it. The accommodation my be an arrangement to work in a different space. There are any number of adjustments that can be made.
It was my intent to have the student become reflective of their own actions and be an active participant in the process. This was as much part of teaching students as learning the skills outlined in the curriculum. Both take time to learn and reinforce.
And so, in summary, to respond to the original question, it doesn’t really matter whether the student is dealing with an attitude issue or whether they were coping the best they can because of their neurodiversity. The focus is on helping the student.
The Challenge of ABI
My better answer, if you were to ask me, came a few days after the teacher workshop ended. My ability to problem solve has been noticeably affected by my ABI. That doesn’t mean I am not able to resolve situations or answer questions. It simply means I need more time to find a solution. The more challenging questions and situations will quite often require three or four days before an effective response or solution presents itself. At that point I’ll think, “Now why didn’t I think of that sooner? It just makes so much sense.”
I guess I need to accept that my brain is synchronized to a slower internal clock. And that’s okay.