I have a couple of students with Autism or Autistic-like behaviors (an actual thing when the diagnosis isn’t clear on an educational level). Without going into a long discussion (yet*), let me oversimplify by saying that some students with Autism struggle with social skills, understanding social cues and non-verbal communication, and it is quite quite common for a student with Autism to be very literal in their thinking. The teaching standards for Language Arts in the middle grades in my state include lots of figurative language. Good expository and narrative writing includes lots of figurative language. I am constantly trying to teach these kiddos nuance, metaphor, allusion, and a sense of themselves outside what they can see and hear. Or, failing that, how to navigate the world around them. Below is a conversation I had recently with one of these kiddos. On the surface it seems like an odd conversation. Threaded in there though, are some beads of brilliance on his part. Let me ‘splain…
Kiddo: This week is going by slow isn’t it?
Me: (sighing, rubbing my forehead) Yes, it really is.
Kiddo: Is it really, or like 8th-graders-are-literal kind of slow. [BEAD #1]
Me: (starting to smile) Nah, I think it really is.
Kiddo: (mischievous twinkle in his eye) And maybe slower because we have 8th Grade Disease? [BEAD #2]
Me: [smiling] Yeah, maybe it is.
Kiddo: And would it be better if I became invisible? [BEAD #3]
Me: Maybe if we all did, yes.
Kiddo: See you tomorrow.
Me: Not if we’re invisible
BEAD #1–I always tell them that it’s okay if they see things literally at first, because that’s what 8th graders are really good at. I play out scenarios where 8th graders are literal, and then we try to be more figurative. He realizes that the week going slowly isn’t literal, and he’s turning that over in his mind. He caught himself being figurative (yay!). Also, we use hyphenated modifiers in our writing, and he made it clear he was using one in his talking (you have to find it yourself.)
BEAD #2–Here Kiddo is showing me that he remembers something I said. He sees that I’m tired, that it was a rough day. He knows I talked to the 8th graders about having 8th Grade Disease earlier, and he is trying to connect. This is huge. He knows he was a butt-head himself earlier, and wants to fix it. The fact that he is trying to reach out of his own head in a social way is a big step for him and a stretch. He also does it quite well, which is super-cool.
BEAD #3–Earlier that week (actually the day before, but as I mentioned, it had been a long week), Kiddo was not paying attention to our conversation about the word “uncanny” and kept talking about how being invisible would be cool. Even after explaining that invisibility was more of a magic power or super power, he kept blurting out examples using invisibility. Finally, I tried my “pushing-in-instead-of-pushing-out” trick (I just named that right there. Did you see how I did that?) and stopped fighting him. I challenged him to try to put invisibility into our conversation five more times before class ended, or before I did–whichever came first (not before I ended, but before I used it five times. Heh. That sounds funny so I’m leaving it). My next example sentence was “It is uncanny how Kiddo has the ability to incorporate invisibility into each of our conversations.” and it went from there. Here, he is bringing up an old joke. This is a big social skill he is learning. Connecting to a previous conversation like that, and continuing a joke in an appropriate way. I was tickled pink. Or purple. Or some color that you can be tickled to be.
So you see my caped friends, a ten-second conversation at the end of a long day can, in fact, be full of learning. What a lucky duck I am to be able to experience it! It’s… uncanny! Or invisible.
*NOTE–Two of my caped family members know way more about this than I do. They study it and work with it and can explain it much better. I am glad to try, but think I will outsource this particular topic to the experts.