Always expect the unexpected. The teacher in Room 623 had learned that was pretty much a reality in her classroom. With a class full of children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) the unexpected was typically the norm. Then again, sometimes, the unexpected went way beyond anything anyone could even imagine. That was the case one week in January with Edgar.
Edgar was a character. He had been in the classroom for three years. Before that, he had been in the Preschool Program with Children with Disabilities (PPCD) across the hall with the younger students.
Edgar was quite intelligent but chose to speak in broken phrases to get what he wanted. Why say more when a simple word or two would do. Yet at other times, he would quietly say long phrases at unexpected times.
His voice would alter with different pitches almost with a cartoon quality when he spoke some of his sentences.
The staff loved all the children in Room 623 but Edgar held a special spot with everyone.
Edgar would drive the staff a little crazy with his repetitions. When he wanted something like popcorn and a movie, he would start to repeat it. “Popcorn, movie. Popcorn, movie,” might be stated over and over one week.
The fact that movies and popcorn only came at 1:30 on Fridays didn’t seem to matter.
Another week, it might be “Three quarters and red slime.” He liked to win the slime cans during his physical education class. That occurred on Mondays and Fridays but he would say it all week. The staff could stop his repetitions with lots of visual and verbal reminders. The problem was when one phrase stopped, a new one would begin.
Then, one week, the weather changed. It became cold and dry down in Deep South Texas, not too typical for the area. Edgar typically shuffled his feet across the few rugs in the classroom. That didn’t matter usually matter and the teacher and staff didn’t think much about it. You choose your battles and that wasn’t one of them.
One Monday morning, during that winter, Edgar got up to answer a question on the SMART board. The children had been learning about the upcoming election. Elephants and donkeys were up on the board. Which one was Republican and which one was Democrat?
As the teacher handed the boy the computer pen, a shock was exchanged between them. It caught everyone off guard. None of the other students had experienced that. Then when Edgar was handed his favorite cheese gold fish for a reward, another shock passed between the teacher and child.
As the other children came up, no shocks seemed to pass except for one other child. That was a small one. As soon as Edgar came up, another big shock happened. This time the boy was terrified of getting a reward. He wanted the teacher to throw him the reward. Edgar shouted, “Toss it. Toss it.” That brought out a huge laugh with the other children and staff.
No one had yet thought about the way Edgar was coming up to the board.
A few days later while at the SMART board, Edgar came up. Once again, a shock passed this time between a paraprofessional who was at the board and the boy. Edgar, understandably, became afraid of going up to the board. This was even after working with him on not to shuffle his feet.
The teacher resigned herself to allowing the boy pick up his own rewards and pen. He still was afraid and wanted it tossed to him. In a way he was right. Tossing the object helped but the real answer was his walking style. Fortunately, the weather began to shift and the typical warm humid weather returned. That helped eliminate the static electricity.
Edgar’s experience ended up a teaching lesson. They learned firsthand about a strange phenomenon that isn’t all that frequent down in South Texas.
Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at email@example.com