Monday, October 6, 2014

What's Your Superpower as a Teacher?

Woo Hoo!  
The Primary Pack is here and we're all so excited to share and learn with you~everything education!  We are all from various backgrounds... from Kinder Educators to Character Education Teachers, from locations such as California, to Michigan to Canada!  So hopefully you'll find something you can use in your classroom or even at home with your own kiddos, as that is our goal from the 30 Bloggers known as the Primary Pack!

I'm so honored to be with you today!  My name is Cara Taylor, from Creative Playground.  I've been an educator for the past 17 years, and have worked with students from PreK to College age.  I have a Psychology and Special Education Degree, and also a Master's in Educational Leadership.  

But as I share with you today, I'm here as a Mom!  I have a bittersweet post to offer you today; I'll be talking about a very tender subject to me, as it hits home everyday of my life.

I know as an educator you've seen this meme around on shirts and posters.  You may even have one hanging in your classroom...

Believe me, I hear ya and I'm shouting that phrase from the mountain tops as a teacher myself!  But today, I want to show you the poster I have hanging in my office at home, which to me is more important than the one above:

 I decided to have my Garyn at a later age in life...I wanted to be financially set and have my career running strong.  So I had all those things and along he came.  He came to me 2 months early, weighing only 4 lbs and could fit inside one of my hands.  He appeared to be healthy, but I knew as a Special Educator that he may have cognitive and physical delays in his development.  But that was OK with me, because he was my Angel sent from above.

When he got to Preschool, he began to have problems.  I knew he was very, very smart, but I also had that Mommy intuition that something just wasn't right with my little man.  When I heard he had hit his teacher when she was trying to get him from under the sand table, I knew my intuition was correct.  I took him to the doctor looking for answers.  I left with a referral to an Autism Specialist at a hospital two hours away.  
My heart was broken and I've never, ever felt so helpless in my life.  Not only was I a Special Educator at work, but now I'd be one at home too.  I cried, and cried, and cried.  My son Garyn had Autism and as his Mommy there was nothing I could do to fix it.

Well, I'm here with you three years later and guess what?  As Pete the Cat would say, "Everything is good!"  My son Garyn is now 7-years-old, and has Asperger's Syndrome.  He's an Aspie (someone with Asperger's) which is a form of Autism.  Autism is a developmental condition that is on a spectrum, with Aspergers being on the far right.  He has a full-scale IQ that is near genius; I knew he was very smart.  But his social IQ is that of someone with a Cognitive Impairment.  So, basically he's a genius with a mental impairment.  Crazy, I know.  Right?

As a teacher you may have a student(s) in your classroom with Autism; you may even have some unidentified Aspies in your classroom right now!  These are the kids that are super book smart, but can't make a friend and may be a social outcast in your room because their "weird".  They may appear to have ADHD, with the attention span of the Road Runner...Beep, Beep!  They finish their work and they're off runnin'.

Well, as a Mommy to the best Aspie in the world AND a teacher, I bring to you today some tips and tricks as how to handle and work with students with Asperger's Syndrome.  Hopefully, I can shed some light on the topic and make your days a little brighter!

So here we go... Let's learn about teaching your Aspie.

1)  Students with Aspergers will have sensory issues.  This means that all their senses will be affected throughout the day in some way or another.  Some Aspies have senses that are HYPERACTIVE like my son's, or they may be UNDER ACTIVE also.  In my son's case, each and everyone of his senses are in overdrive 24/7.  For example, at school, he can't eat in the lunchroom because the smell of all the food will make him crazy.  It will literally hurt is brain (his words).  So in your classroom, it's best not to have any air fresheners.  I know, I love them too!  You also should dim your lights (affects their sight) and not have any background music playing (affects their hearing).

2)  Aspies appear to have ADHD; just like "normal" students they need frequent brain breaks during the school day.  But they will need them more often~as much as one break in between each lesson.

3)  Please don't punish your Aspie for their behavior.  It's really not their fault for how they act.  It's their brains fault.  Trust me, if they could redo the calling out and rude comments that magically come out of their mouths, they would.

4)  Don't put your Aspie in a Time-Out.  A Time-Out is related to negative behaviors.  Instead, put them in a Take-a-Break area.  Have a special place for them to go in your room that is away from everyone else, it may be darker, behind a partition maybe.  But they need somewhere to go when their senses start to go into overdrive.  That's when their undesirable behaviors start to occur, which no one wants to happen.  Even them.

5)  Have a Caring Classroom, Fill-Your-Bucket, Brag Tag, SOMETHING in your classroom that is set up to assist your Aspie.  They need to feel like their environment is a safe place, one free from bully taunts and teases.  They WILL be teased so try to have a place where it's least likely for that to happen.

6)  Those with Asperger's Syndrome CANNOT read facial expressions!  You know that mean Teacher-Look that you have?  Forget it.  Look at your Aspie like that and they might even laugh back at you!  They don't understand facial expressions; they won't know if your mad, sad, happy, or disappointed with them by your face.  So you'll have to use visual and verbal cues instead.  For example, with my son, his teacher and myself use a thumbs-up, or one or two finger system with him.  If we put up one finger, he's not talking on topic.  If we put up two fingers, he's still off-topic and needs to just stop talking.  Period.  So have some system in place for them that's not some facial expression.

7)  If at possible, allow them to leave the classroom if they need to.  My son has a full-time aide at school.  When he feels like his senses are about to escalate, him and his aide go for a quick walk around the campus.  He needs to be out of the situation to get himself together.

8)  Have a system in place that you will be in constant contact with their parents.  A daily note, phone call, email...whatever.  Just make sure to let the parents know if they had a bad day especially because they may still be in a bad mood when they get home.  Prepare the parents for this by letting them know ahead of time.

And lastly...

PLEASE, even though my son drives you crazy, LOVE him like I would.  I'm not at his school to be with him, but YOU are.  I'm trusting you that you'll give him the love he needs to make it through the day and be as successful as he can.

I've put together the tips and tricks from above into two handouts for you!

I know this was a long post and I thank you for making it all the way through it!  If you ever have any questions or would like to talk to me about your Aspie, please feel free to contact me.  My email is listed on the handouts above.

Have a wonderful day my new friends and until later...Teach on!



  1. OMGoodness! I love how you speak right from your heart, Cara! Thank you so much for all the ASD tips! Your son is so lucky to have you for a mom!

    One Sharp Bunch

    1. Ashley, OMGosh, you know what to say to make a woman cry! Thanks so much for your kind comment. You made my night, Cara

  2. Amazing post! I had a student in my class last year with Autism and although she's not my own child, I still think of her as one and love her dearly. Thank you for speaking from your heart and sharing your story!
    -Elyse @ A is for Apples

    1. Elyse, I know that Mom is grateful for your kindness towards her daughter. Even though she's not in the classroom to watch you, I'm sure it's apparent when her daughter came home from school everyday. We need more teachers like you...Cara;)

  3. WOW! If I could give you the mom of the year award, I would! This was an amazing first post, Cara. I learned SO much more than I could ever learn about ASD from a website or a textbook. Thank you for posting about something so close to your heart. I am so lucky to have you as a bloggy friend, and Garyn is lucky to have you as a mom!
    Miss Peluso's Kindergarten

    1. Awww, Gina! Thanks so, so much. I have the chills right now reading your comments! Thanks so, so much for your support especially; I really need it my friend. I'm glad to have you as a bloggy friend too! Cara;)

  4. Wow. This post made me tear up, made me happy, made my day!

    Last year, I had a severely Autistic student - and I couldn't understand him. As the year went on, we learned more and more about each other and things got easier.. but man! Those first few months were tough. We both worked SO hard and it touched my heart how much he grew not only as a student, but as a little man. Your son is SO lucky to have a mother who knows and understands.

    Now, my little man has moved to a different school, one that can more meet his needs. Him leaving was so hard, but I know he's doing much better and has many more opportunities. He would tell everyone he met how he was going to "Perry Elementary" next year. He makes my heart happy, as your post did.


    1. Thanks so much Molly! You know, even though he might not have been able to communicate it to you, I KNOW he loved you in his heart, in his own special way. Every little smile, nod, chuckle from him...meant that he thought you were special and he loved you I'm sure. I'm glad you had that experience as I'm sure it made you an even more passionate teacher. Thanks so much for sharing your story Molly, Cara;)

  5. Cara. This was brilliant. As a sister of an Aspie, I thank you for making others aware of this topic. I love the handouts you provided for parents and teachers. Thank you, thank you! Keep up the great work! Your boy sure knows that you LOVE him! :)

    Creativity to the Core

    1. You have an Aspie in your family? You are for sure going to be on my list for support Meredith! I hope that I have shed a little light on the subject for some. I know that not everyone has someone with special needs in their classroom, but sometime in their career as a teacher, they WILL! Thanks for your support friend, Cara;)

  6. What a wonderful post, Cara. Thank you so much for sharing so much about you and your son. You two are amazing and I can tell you make a great team!
    Missing Tooth Grins

    1. Alisha, your comments make me happy! Thanks so much and I hope in some way Garyn can show me that he knows I'm there for him. He can't do that now, but hopefully someday he'll be able to. I appreciate your support friend! Cara;)

  7. I am sharing your sensory awareness checklist and post with some of my colleagues! Thank you so much for sharing your personal and professional story. Your strength and support are most certainly the wind beneath your son's wings, as well as underneath your invisible yet ever-present superhero cape!
    Stories and Songs in Second

    1. Jennifer...Thanks SO much for spreading the love my way! I appreciate it so very much and just think of how many people you and I as a team are sending a wonderful and helpful message out there! The wind beneath my son's poetically said. I love you for your kind words Jennifer. Thank you so, so much, Cara;)

  8. Fabulous post- tugs at my heartstrings and inspires me to be more cautious of kiddos that may be showing signs yet not 'diagnosed' yet. I started brain breaks this year with my class of high energy lovies and it really makes a difference! We 'Go Noodle' and they LOVE it! They have a parent portion of their website too! Thanks for opening up and shedding light on something that should not be kept in the dark!
    Crayons & Cuties In Kindergarten

    1. Thanks so much for your support Jennifer! I've never actually gone to visit Go Noodle, but sure have heard a lot about it. I will go visit it tomorrow as I'm sure my son will just love to do the breaks at home! Thanks for enlightening me about that site friend! Cara;)

  9. Thank you for sharing your story! Your son is so lucky to have you as his mom! I will be sharing this post with my colleagues too!

  10. Very nice post Cara! Thank you for sharing your story with us:)
    Take care, Amy