Should we do an Asperger Syndrome class for 5th graders?
February 3, 2006 7:46 PM   Subscribe

My 11 year old son has high functioning Asperger Syndrome and I have been approached by his Special Services teacher asking me and another mom to give a speech to the 5th grade class trying to explain AS to the 5th graders in his class. I'm on the fence because my son really wants me to do it but I'm afraid that he will become more of an outcast if I do do it. As anyone with AS knows the social aspect of this disease is disheartening and I really want to help my son in any way that I can but I'm just not sure about this. Please let me know your thoughts on the subject. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Joyce
posted by kopiedj to Human Relations (14 answers total)
My wife, a special education teacher, highly recommends you do this this speech, and recommends this book for you to use as part of the presentation:

This is Asperger Syndrome

The book is intended to introduce kids and teachers to children with Aspergers.

She says the presentation should be done in a small setting -- no more than 30 kids, and ideally even smaller -- in order to be useful.

Focus on how the child is similar to his peers -- "these are all the ways you guys are the same," and not "this is how my child is different."

Email me offline (see my profile) if you would like to email her directly. She has tons of experience in this area.
posted by frogan at 8:00 PM on February 3, 2006

I dunno. Kids, because they don't know any better, can be mercilessly cruel - especially at that age. A special presentation in class to explain what makes a single student different, delivered by his own mother. . . sounds like it could be a very bad thing.

On the other hand, I think it's great that the teachers involved seem to genuinely care. It's a tough call.

The deciding factor seems to be your son. If he genuinely wants you to do it, I think that seals it. Good luck!
posted by aladfar at 8:30 PM on February 3, 2006

Kids are generally cruel when it comes to differences they don't understand. You might find that some of the kids in the class might actually become more compassionate when they learn a bit more.

Although, i do agree that the speech might be better received if it didn't come from you. Fifth grade is right around the time it becomes really dorky to be close with your parents. Maybe the Special Services teacher could deliver it?
posted by Kololo at 9:04 PM on February 3, 2006

The deciding factor seems to be your son. If he genuinely wants you to do it, I think that seals it.

Well, your son may or may have a good read on what the consequeces of such a speech might be (increased or decreased cruelty), so I don't think his view should necessarily be the deciding factor.

But if the teachers think it's a good idea, I'd go for it. They probably do have a decent handly on how the kids will react. I'm unclear on who the other mom is -- could she maybe do the presentation in your son's class and you do one in hers? (Assuming your sons aren't in the same class). That would mitigate some of the you-brought-your-mom-to-school stigma.
posted by duck at 9:52 PM on February 3, 2006

Seconded duck. If your boy really wants it, it'd be good for the parent-son relationship if you *do* make the speech. Also, I remember being an absolute dick at that age - having a parent come in and explain what's up would have knocked me down quite a lot.
posted by notsnot at 10:59 PM on February 3, 2006

The fact that he thinks it's a good idea seems to me to be somewhat counteracted by the fact that he has Asperger's, and therefore a bit of a hard time reading peer social situations. If it's really as easy as a book to be read aloud and then discussed, maybe the teacher should do it, as duck says, with you and the other mom there to field questions and/or provide support?
posted by librarina at 11:53 PM on February 3, 2006

I think you ought to do it. He's likely to be picked on whether you do or don't, but not by everyone in the class and I suspect there are more than a few of his classmates who would be interested in learning what makes him different. It might be better if you can convince them you're cool and this lecture isn't some kind of punishment. Maybe bring cookies or something. Also, be confident; kids this age can smell fear.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:03 AM on February 4, 2006

10% of the kids out there are going torment the outcasts, no matter what - you can't reach them.

10% of the kids are going to be nice to everyone no matter what - they are awesome, and I wish I had been like them as a kid.

That leaves the 80% who are like I was - who might go along with the tormentor or might not. That's who you may be able to reach and do some real good. I think you should do it - you can get some of those 80% to stop thinking "he's a dork" and start thinking, "it's a medical condition." And just having one person decide to not go along with the tormentors is HUGE.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:41 AM on February 4, 2006

You should definately do it. Similar situations involving kids with Downs syndrome have had positive results.
posted by 7878ponce at 8:22 AM on February 4, 2006

I don't know if you should do it or not, but would like to share a related experience. As a psychologist, I did an assessment of a boy whom I diagnosed as having Aspergers. He had been getting into all kinds of trouble at school: his peers would taunt him, and he would smack them and get suspended. The teacher thought he was an aggressive, difficult kid.

Once the teacher understood the diagnosis, she changed how she treated the boy. And the students in the class followed her lead. The fights stopped, and the boy's school experience became much more positive. All without any direct intervention with the class.

I'm not saying don't educate the kids. I just think it's important that teachers understand how much their treatment of a child will influence how classmates treat them.

What bothers me most is teachers who take the stand on bullying that "kids will be kids." They condone it and allow it to happen. It's great when a teacher gives the message "it's not ok." It's even better when a teacher models for the class how to respond to the child in a friendly, compassionate way.
posted by lisaj32 at 10:34 AM on February 4, 2006

I've been in a similar situation, as a kid in the class of another student with a medical condition.

This was in first grade (1993), and it's pretty incredible that I still remember this, because my memory is notoriously shitty. It must have made a big impression on me.

Anyway, I don't remember exactly what condition Alex had, but I know it impaired her motor skills and kept her from walking normally. I think at times she couldn't walk at all. Like Asperger's this was a major condition that couldn't really be overlooked by her peers.

Alex's mom came in at the beginning of the year and explained her condition - told us she was just the same as the rest of us, except maybe might need help picking up her crayons if she dropped them. I know the talk was longer, and I don't remember what else she said, but I vividly remember being so happy that I finally understood why Alex didn't walk like the rest of us. I don't think what you say is as important as your giving the talk in the first place.

We all warmed to Alex immediately; her mom's short explanation broke down the barriers that prevent an elementary-school kid from liking anybody, in some way, unexplainable. Everyone became Alex's friend immediately afterwards, we all realized how cool she was.

I ended up sharing my first awkward middle school slow dance with Alex, a few years later.

So, yes, do this! Kids don't fear people who are different, they fear people who cannot be understood. Granted, these are fifth graders, and a little more set in their ways than first graders. But I really, really encourage you to make the talk.
posted by Sfving at 10:37 AM on February 4, 2006

I have a son in the exact same circumstances, although he's only in first grade, and the Special Ed group at the school actually offered to do something similar themselves, but without focusing specifically on our kid. It was more just a session about how "everyone has their own way of learning", and while it didn't talk specifically about Asperger's, most of the differences it explored had to with how a child with high-functioning Asperger's processes things differently.

They only had the session a little while ago, so it's probably early to tell whether or not it had an impact, and there are other things that have changed as well that will probably help how he relates to other students, but it probably didn't hurt to have the talk. If you've got any reservations about doing it yourself, that's another option you might consider to help kids empathize more.
posted by LairBob at 10:51 AM on February 4, 2006

For what's worth, I attend college with someone who has Aperger's and while he's certainly not the most normal soul around, he's found his niche and is entirely capable of fitting in and getting the work done. Kids can be cruel, but they'll usually end up okay in the end.
posted by GilloD at 7:49 PM on February 4, 2006

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time helped me better understand a kid who has Asperger Syndrome. I heard this as a BBC audio book.
posted by gregoreo at 4:00 PM on February 5, 2006

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