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Friday, December 19, 2008

Senor Dog

For some unknown reason, the DarkSide decided at some point to take in a child with Aspberger's. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular developmental disorder, it is part of what's referred to as a spectrum disorder, meaning it affects different individuals in different ways. A child with Aspberger's is generally very intelligent, speaks well (and is effusively chatty), can perform tasks of daily living (bathing, teeth brushing, getting dressed), and looks very much like a typical kid. Where the disorder comes in is when the child is presented with certain social situations. Kids with Aspberger's are not big on other people. They have difficulty making eye contact, picking up on social cues, and making friends. They tend to like to play alone, even if there are other kids playing near them with the same toys (we call this parallel play). They also engage in self stimulatory behaviors. Now I know that sounds dirty and the dirty actions count too, but typically this means they like to watch wheels go around incessantly or they hand flap. They also become easily obsessed with certain things.

This particular little guy that we took on was only 10 but he was placed in my classroom with my 14- year-olds because I was the only teacher who had experience with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The older boys immediately divided themselves into two factions: they either thought Christopher was cute, or they hated him because he was irritating. Chris was small, chubby, and had large floppy ears. He was loud, bubbly, and very unaware of personal space. He was however, also incredibly entertaining.

Chris had a thing for busses. He wanted to be a bus driver when he grew up and he knew everything there was to know about the Peter Pan busses downtown. To blow off steam, he would go out in the hall and "drive" his route. He would pretend to be driving a bus, calling out stops at each classroom door, yelling for other students to hurry up and get on before he left without them.

Unfortunately Chris had a great deal of difficulty keeping up with the other students in the room since they were four years older. Even though I had developed a substantially separate curriculum for Chris including a token board and a point sheet that had smile faces instead of points, occasionally Chris just wanted to take a stab at what the other boys were doing. One day we were reading and discussing fables and what it meant to have a story with a moral. I tried to tie it into the social skills the kids were working on and asked them to choose two animals who would teach each other a lesson related to a particular social skill. This was a pretty tough assignment for Chris but he seemed to be making his best effort, writing as if his life depended on it. I then asked the kids to get up and share their fables with the class, which a few kids did very well on. Then came Christopher...

"Once upon a time there was a dog. No, a cat. And a cow. No, a pig. The pig was out walking one day and..."

And suddenly we couldn't understand what the hell he was saying. He was standing in front of my desk with one pudgy little finger pointing up to the ceiling, spouting gibberish interspersed with the words dog and pig. Finally I just couldn't take it anymore and I stopped him.

"Christopher, what language are you speaking?"

He looked thoughtful for a moment. "It's Chinese."

"Did you write it in Chinese?"

He nodded. "See?"

I took one look at his paper and collapsed laughing. The whole time he had been scribbling away at his desk, he had been writing in squares and triangles. While I tried to compose myself, Christopher decided to continue reading his story in Chinese.

He rambled on for a while longer until he stood up very straight, took a deep breath, and yelled, "And the pig said, 'Si Senor Dog!' THE END!"

Christopher was so proud of himself for having completed the assignment that I had no choice but to give him a big fat A for effort. I also made him a name tag that said, "Hello My Name is Senor Dog" and forced him to wear it everyday for the next two weeks.

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