How to Deal with Classrooms and Autism
Maja Toudal is a student with Asperger’s I met in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here are her tips for succeeding in your classroom.
I realize that not every part of this will be applicable in every country. We have different educational systems, and this is tailored to mine. This is meant as an inspiration to what you can do to make the student-teacher relationship go well from the beginning.
When I begin a new semester there’s a conversation I must repeat. Actually, it’s getting to the point where it’s more of a monologue. I have some diagnoses that make it difficult for me to be in a classroom, and while I do my best to deal with it, there are still a few things that will be affected.
I need a place – preferably always the same – on the first row, and away from the door. This allows me to create an imaginary sensory bubble around myself, the teacher and blackboard, which excludes the rest of the room. That way, I can pay attention in class. It is exhausting to do this, and to keep it up, but not as much as every other strategy I’ve tried.
As for taking part in the class, I do my best, but the teacher should never expect me to take part in group work. It is one of the most stressful things to do, and I am only capable of it on very good days, in a group of two with someone I like. That’s a problem in Denmark, because group work is a huge part of our educational system.
When I explain my issues with it to teachers, I try to keep a non-dramatizing, matter-of-fact tone, and let them know that I will generally learn more for the whole week if I am not forced into group work, due to the extra stress it would cause to take part in it.
I will have to take a day here and there to decrease my stress levels. I am aware that this pattern in absence can easily appear as though I am skipping school, and because of that I find it important to let the teachers know that this is not the case. I mention it in an effort to avoid misunderstandings.
Finally, I tell them not to worry about me learning the subject. I’m a good student and I will work hard to do as well as I can. After this conversation, we’re usually on good terms.
I have not promised to be perfect. I have not promised that I will be a straight A student – only that I will do my best. I’ve also been open and honest. This is something most people appreciate.
On the really bad days, I remind myself that whatever I do, I must not piss off the teachers. There is nothing at all to gain from it. I want them to be my allies, not my enemies. So I am always polite to all teachers.
Aside from this, I keep two things in mind:
I can only expect them to take me seriously if I uphold my end of the agreement. So no matter how long I will be taught by this person – one semester or several years – I have to do my best.
Second, my diagnoses are explanations, NOT excuses. So while they demand attention on certain points, they do not keep me from being a decent person or student, or from advancing both in education and in social matters. I must always improve.
As for the conversation itself, the key elements to it going well (there are no guarantees!) are:
1) Be polite Make sure everything seems like a request, but one that will make it all easier for both parties.
2) Be exact About the difficulties and the solutions.
3) Make it short The whole conversation, from “hello” to “thank you, goodbye”, should only last 5 minutes – remember you can always have another at a later time.
4) Only give the necessary information Don’t explain every detail of the difficulties that are relevant. Present them in short, simplistic form, and stay focused on what they need to know in order for things to go as smoothly as possible.
Maja started writing songs when she was 9 and released her debut album, Live, Acoustic & Stripped less than a year ago. She has also released quite a few singles, available online.
Maja also has a youtube channel where she talks about Asperger’s and Autism.