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  • Writer's pictureHannah's Hope

After School.

James Guttman, creator of and writer for HiBlog! I'm Dad. wrote an article titled "Empathy in Advocacy:Recognizing my Non-Verbal Son's Exhausting School Day" and shared it with Organization for Autism Research (OAR) for them to use on their own website and blog. OAR is an organization whose mission is to "use science to address the social, educational and treatment concerns of autistic people, parents, autism professionals and caregivers." They use research to answer questions of daily concern to hopefully improve the quality of life of individuals with autism and those around them. Guttman describes memories of having to drag his son off of the school bus at the end of each day, whether by hand or by enticing him with an iPad. Having to entice or beg your child to come to you at the end of the school day can be both physically and emotionally draining as well as just downright embarrassing. Guttman would go through a rollercoaster of emotions himself as he began his trip to pick his son up feeling excited and then when his son melted down he would feel disappointed, frustrated and offended. Once they would walk roughly 20 feet away from the school though, his son would begin to smile and laugh again. Why? Turns out, his son liked to sleep on the school bus. After some observation, Guttman realized that his son actually preferred taking the bus after school rather than his dad picking him up in their car because he got to cruise around in the bus and lay out in the seat to nap while the bus made its rounds before his stop. The school bus allows him some time to pause after a strenuous day at school. For a child with autism, the school day can be extremely taxing as they are trying to learn new concepts, build language skills and mature in ways they may not even totally understand. Guttman explains that while his son is going through these massive challenges, to them, his family, they don't see any of that. They don't see the struggles that he goes through during his school day because he doesn't express it to them. He just leaves home, goes to school and comes back; most of his day is a mystery to them. When you really stop to think about the ways in which your child continues to fight every day during the taxing schedule of being of school, then it is easy to have compassion and begin to understand what all they may be going through. Challenge yourself to think of things through your child's point of view. What Guttman began to realize is that his son is not necessarily able to tell him how tired he is from a long day at school; he refers to this as his son's "unspoken perspective." Guttman explains that while a lot of children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or something like it, may not be able to communicate verbally what they are feeling, they are often just showing their exhaustion or frustration in a different way. Promise yourself and your child that you will do your very best to understand what they are going through during the day and be the person who is going to continue to love and respect them even when they are having a particularly confusing outburst as a result of their long school day. While it may be challenging to remind yourself of the truths that Guttman pointed out in his personal reflection, especially during a moment where your child is obviously over-stimulated, exhausted, frustrated, etc. The most important takeaway in this message is to recognize and respect your child despite the lack of communication they may be giving at the end of a long school day. Love and understand them in the best ways you can and your effort will not go unnoticed by them and they will be forever grateful.

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