Pudding is about to start first grade in her mainstream school. She is returning after completing kindergarten, so many things will remain the same, but there are new challenges for her to face. Most importantly, a new teacher. She asked me to tell her about Pudding, so here I will try…
1. She is always trying her best
Always. It may not seem like it. Especially at 3 am, it can be hard to see it, but she is aways trying her best. She isn’t lazy, or naughty, or clumsy. She makes every effort. Praise her efforts. Rejoice in her successes. Never punish her if the results don’t match her peers. She is trying her best. Always.
2. Make her comfortable
Sometimes you can’t tell she is trying her best, because she is trying to get comfortable. Getting comfortable for her could be a lot different for her than it is for you and I. Comfort needs to be on her terms, and you might have to try a few things out before you both figure that out. Does she need to be away from the bright light coming in from the windows? Does she need to be seated close so it is easier for her to hear you amongst the classroom noise? Is somebody doing garden work with loud equipment? Does she need to get up and move? Perhaps a stint in the sensory room. Try and make sure her every sense is satisfied, and you’ll have a much more comfortable learner. You’ll even find she tolerates more if you allow her to be in control.
3. Ease her anxiety
This one is easier said than done, I know. Let her be your guide. We’ve read the social story all through the break, and she is familiar with the school, but there will be changes to her routine that take her out of her comfort zone. She knows when she has had enough. Respect that, and know that if she trusts you, that is already half the battle won. When she gains confidence, she is bold and resilient. If she is pushed into doing something, she is scared and stubborn. Let her be your guide, and she will push herself harder than you could imagine.
4. Speak her language
There are no shortcuts here, I can’t really give you a phrasebook in Pudding. Communication will be a struggle until you figure out the idiosyncrasies of her language. You’ll get to know her quirks. She may reply ‘no’ if you ask if she is okay, and ‘yes’ if you ask if she is fine. If she is struggling to process something verbally, try a different way. Always respect her no.
5. Listen to your own language
What you say in the heat of the moment will echo in her heart. I’m working right now on assuring her that her writing isn’t ‘ugly’ and that she isn’t ‘clumsy.’ Thoughtless expressions like this resonate with her. She’ll repeat them to me, but worse than that, she’ll repeat them to herself for even longer. Let your lasting testimony be words that build her up, rather than knock her down.
6. Give her time
I mean this both literally and figuratively. Remember that she is taking in a lot of other information at the same time as your words, and these need to be decoded before she can respond. Give her a few extra seconds to process a question or verbal command. Better still, provide visual cues to assist her interpretation. If she doesn’t seem to pick something up, try another approach until you get the right one. You will.
7. Presume competence
Believe in her, and she’ll show you how right you are. Do otherwise, and you’re both doomed to failure.
8. Help her to belong
She is an amazing, fascinating, beautiful, kind, brave, multi-faceted little girl. She wants nothing more than to belong in her classroom. Help other classmates to understand her value, and interact with her in a positive way. Not just for Pudding’s sake, but for their own too. Sooner or later, all of us will feel that we don’t belong. Teach them that everybody does.
9. Embrace the special interests
Yes, you’re going to have to learn to love Hello Kitty. Special interests can be a weapon or a tool, depending on your approach. See Hello Kitty as a way of cutting through other distractions and helping her to focus. You can count the Hello Kitties, write stories about them, paint pictures…the list goes on and on.
10. We’re here
We aren’t going to tell you how to teach, but we can tell you how to help her learn. The most important thing is that the two of you develop your own relationship, and you learn from each other. Trust me, I’m still learning from my girl, and I’m constantly amazed at all she has to teach us.