Can I be an effective teacher with mild autism?

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Coralie
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28 Oct 2013, 7:34 pm

I have an autism spectrum disorder, and I’m studying to become a teacher. However, I now have doubts about my ability to teach. While I have solid knowledge of my content area and have lots of creative ideas to help students learn, the issue is my idiosyncrasies which interfere with almost every job I’ve held. I am outgoing and genuinely invested in helping others learn, but there are many traits that others find to be peculiar. I am looking for some honest advice to find out if the below issues can be mitigated, or if individually or collectively, they are too significant for me to be a successful teacher. The last thing I want to do is get fired or asked to quit (which has happened to me at other jobs before). I want to make sure I am choosing a career where I can excel, not one where I constantly have to worry about staying afloat. I am unsure how much student teaching supervisors would scrutinize these problems, but I am hoping for honest feedback.

Here are my concerns:

-I am overly nice and too considerate of people’s feelings. Interestingly, I think this stems from my ASD. When I was younger, I was told I was quite blunt and always got criticized for being too forthcoming, so over the years, I began to overcompensate by being extra kind to everyone I encounter. I don’t feel comfortable reprimanding others (perhaps due to low self-confidence). Since I am always screwing up, I tend to assume others have the best intentions which leads me to be overly lenient. I am scared I will be perceived as a pushover, because I am extremely non-confrontational.

-I have been criticized for talking too fast. I’m not sure if this is from my ASD or because of my bipolar-NOS diagnosis, but I am seldom aware of how fast I talk.

-My eye contact is very poor. For instance, when I give presentations, I can make eye contact for the first two minutes (since I am just focusing on introducing my material), but once I get absorbed into the topic I forget I need to make eye contact. I am concerned that a). this could generate scrutiny during my student teaching practicum and b). students might think that something is “off” because I can’t look them in the eye.

-I appear very disheveled. While I can put on a nice sweater and dress pants, my belt might be falling out of its loop, my sweater might have breakfast stains on it, there might be chocolate on my face and my hair might be frizzing out. I try my very best to dress professionally, but it is hard for me to pay attention to all the fine details. I am concerned students might lose respect for me because of these problems. While I’ve found most adults take these issues in stride because they recognize I am a person with strengths, kids don’t think that way and they may instantly start to tease.

-I have executive function issues. I’m worried about behavioral management in my class, because I get overwhelmed by excessive stimuli, and I’m certain I would miss certain issues going on in the back of my class.



BornThisWay
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28 Oct 2013, 8:44 pm

Coralie,
When I was your age, I had also chosen education as my major...however, I was not really ready to go into a classroom as the teacher at that stage in my own development. I did not actually begin my teaching career until I was in my forties - my own children were in their early teens and I had gained more life experience.
I taught in a K-8 school for over a dozen years. I'm also on the spectrum and I can really relate to your concerns. I too, struggled with some of these issues during my early career and some of them stalled my own classroom teaching experience for decades. I did not actually become a classroom teacher until I was in my late forties. I first spent several years as an aide and a tutor of children with special needs. Luckily, I had administrators who appreciated my creative solutions for my student's situations.
Your post reveals that you have a good idea of your possible shortcomings in the field of teaching - even if you're not always aware of these things, I get the feeling you've been told these things repeatedly.
There are many kinds of teachers. Career options in the field are not just limited to being a classroom teacher - the classic 20 or 30+ students with one teacher. It also involves many other kinds of teaching, like aides, tutors and small group specialists with specific skills.
From your self description, I feel that you would indeed be faced with the obstacles you fear in a classic classroom setting. You might however, be very good as a special education specialist working with small groups or individuals or a teaching therapist. Your compassionate sensitivity and personal understanding could make you an effective teacher for specific kinds of students.
Being able to effectively guide a student does mean that you must be able to lead, correct and sometimes even goad and discipline a student. Creating a disciplined and orderly atmosphere is an absolute necessity to be able to teach well. Don't fear it, it is a skill that you can learn and if you don't, then it can interfere with your effectiveness.
I hope this helps a little.



vickygleitz
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28 Oct 2013, 9:31 pm

I was afraid that you would be concerned about being boring, droning on and on in a monotone. That is obviously not your problem. You might need a helper to assist you with your executive dysfunction. Other than that, I think you are going to be a beyond awesome teacher. you're a bit ADHD too, right? YES!



Redentor74
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29 Oct 2013, 12:01 am

I have some of the same problems as you. I have been teaching for seven years, and I still have a lot of difficulty managing / disciplining students. Like you, I also try too hard to be nice to everyone. I also have a difficult time trying to teach and monitor students in different parts of the classroom. However, teaching ESL overseas, I am paired with a co-teacher who speaks the native language and monitors the students while I teach. You may want to consider teaching ESL overseas if you don't mind leaving your own culture / language to live somewhere else. Many of my quirks are taken in stride because I'm a foreigner and expected to be different anyway. There are also online teaching jobs which you may want to look into. I am applying to some now as I am tired of being crammed into a big city in a foreign country with over a million people who have no respect for personal space. This is especially good if you aren't sure whether to go into teaching or an online business - you can gain experience at both!



missymisfit
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23 Dec 2013, 5:42 pm

Coralie

I had exactly the same concerns when I was training to be a teacher last year (secondary/high school) and whilst I have my strengths in teaching, e.g. subject knowledge, sensitivity to the students and good planning I do need to work on discipline and multi-tasking. It doesn't all come at once, it is an ongoing process and hopefully you will be observed frequently and receive helpful, constructive feedback. I feel blessed that knowing me as I am, with all my idiosyncracies and frequent faux pas, I can still manage to teach a class well and can't believe with my work history failure, I've got this far! Sometimes I feel like an imposter!

Regarding students teasing, I have a couple of students that do that - the rest wouldn't dare. I am too nice though and don't always know when they're being mean so I have let a lot go which doesn't help me, as I think I am seen as a bit of a push-over but this is something I need to work on.

Don't focus on what ifs, it sounds like you're a fab teacher already - just persevere and soak and reflect on all the feedback you get. All the best with the rest of your training :D



TiredMom
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25 Dec 2013, 7:46 pm

My daughter (our beloved Aspie) wants to go into Special Ed. She's REALLY good with younger kids w ADHD or on the Spectrum. We thought that since a lot of special Ed is one-on-one (without the classroom management issues), it might be a good fit for her. What do you experienced folks out there think?



managertina
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25 Dec 2013, 9:34 pm

About special Ed, for teachers, you might want to see if someone entry level can get into that area, or if you have to have seniority. If possible, I would get your daughter to job shadow some special Ed teachers to see whether that is something they can get into right away, etc, and at least here in Canada, jobshadow both the public schools and Catholic school system to get a feel for the situation of special Ed in both areas. I ask this because sometimes the teacher only gets half day special Ed and half day something else. Also, SK whether or not the idea of special Ed is to have an aide with the child, or if there are actual classes for children with delays.

Also, sometimes the job of the aide, if that is what the school system does, is underpaid, overworked, etc. Also, to get coping strategies too from that teacher!



SecretSavant
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25 Dec 2013, 10:22 pm

Coralie wrote:
....My eye contact is very poor. For instance, when I give presentations, I can make eye contact for the first two minutes (since I am just focusing on introducing my material), but once I get absorbed into the topic I forget I need to make eye contact. I am concerned that a). this could generate scrutiny during my student teaching practicum and b). students might think that something is “off” because I can’t look them in the eye.

I had a calculus teacher in college who had one eye that tended to wander while the other one stayed in place. I had an English professor who had the exact same problem. Neither of them could look anyone in the eye.

As you go further up the educational ladder and are dealing with adult students, appearances mean a lot less. It's what you have inside your head that counts.

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threequarters
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02 Jan 2014, 5:46 pm

You can absolutely be a teacher, and a good one.

I teach. My main difficulty is executive function -- remembering to collect homework I've assigned. Remembering to hand back papers I've graded. And dealing with the endless paperwork. Oh, and facial recognition. I use flashcards to memorize my students at the beginning of the year, but still don't necessarily recognize them if they turn up somewhere unexpected. I've told my kids what the issue is. I think it is good thing -- there are surely kids in that class who are on the spectrum and I think it is good for them to see someone else on the spectrum as a role model (scary though that thought is!)

I did not disclose at my last job. Things did not go well (though I believe that was not entirely due to my AS but also to certain issues my supervisor had as a person). I disclosed when I got my current job, which is part time (for various reasons, they are unlikely to find another certified teacher to take my position, so it seemed like not a bad idea). So far things are going well at this job.



managertina
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04 Jan 2014, 8:56 pm

[quote="Coralie"]I have an autism spectrum disorder, and I’m studying to become a teacher. However, I now have doubts about my ability to teach. While I have solid knowledge of my content area and have lots of creative ideas to help students learn, the issue is my idiosyncrasies which interfere with almost every job I’ve held. I am outgoing and genuinely invested in helping others learn, but there are many traits that others find to be peculiar. I am looking for some honest advice to find out if the below issues can be mitigated, or if individually or collectively, they are too significant for me to be a successful teacher. The last thing I want to do is get fired or asked to quit (which has happened to me at other jobs before). I want to make sure I am choosing a career where I can excel, not one where I constantly have to worry about staying afloat. I am unsure how much student teaching supervisors would scrutinize these problems, but I am hoping for honest feedback.

Here are my concerns:

-I am overly nice and too considerate of people’s feelings. Interestingly, I think this stems from my ASD. When I was younger, I was told I was quite blunt and always got criticized for being too forthcoming, so over the years, I began to overcompensate by being extra kind to everyone I encounter. I don’t feel comfortable reprimanding others (perhaps due to low self-confidence). Since I am always screwing up, I tend to assume others have the best intentions which leads me to be overly lenient. I am scared I will be perceived as a pushover, because I am extremely non-confrontational.

-I have been criticized for talking too fast. I’m not sure if this is from my ASD or because of my bipolar-NOS diagnosis, but I am seldom aware of how fast I talk.

-My eye contact is very poor. For instance, when I give presentations, I can make eye contact for the first two minutes (since I am just focusing on introducing my material), but once I get absorbed into the topic I forget I need to make eye contact. I am concerned that a). this could generate scrutiny during my student teaching practicum and b). students might think that something is “off” because I can’t look them in the eye.

-I appear very disheveled. While I can put on a nice sweater and dress pants, my belt might be falling out of its loop, my sweater might have breakfast stains on it, there might be chocolate on my face and my hair might be frizzing out. I try my very best to dress professionally, but it is hard for me to pay attention to all the fine details. I am concerned students might lose respect for me because of these problems. While I’ve found most adults take these issues in stride because they recognize I am a person with strengths, kids don’t think that way and they may instantly start to tease.

-I have executive function issues. I’m worried about behavioral management in my class, because I get overwhelmed by excessive stimuli, and I’m certain I would miss certain issues going on in the back of my class.[/quote]

What I think you need is a good mentor and role model. Learning behavior management tactics and reprimanding is possible. Your self descriptions sound like me. I wanted to be a teacher and am now a children's librarian. I had an awesome, awesome role model and that is why I am in my current role, and not doing a backroom job. There are children's charities that need advocates to teach in front of students where you can make a difference and have time to get yourself professional looking. Museums also hire children's programmers sometimes. There are other options out there. Plus studying education gives you a good idea of how to train in general, I think.



Deuterium
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08 Jan 2014, 10:46 am

Honestly, it's the quirky teachers that I've tended to like the most, and from what I remember many would agree with me.