As is true with many children in kindergarten, Michael has difficulty controlling his impulses and urges. He is also very clear about what he likes and does not like.
When presented with a preferred activity, such as Legos, letters or drawing, Michael is able to focus for 20 minutes or more at a time. However, when presented with a non-preferred activity, he will often communicate his refusal by screaming or knocking the activity off his work area. Since these behaviors are not socially acceptable, they are also not acceptable in our ASD classroom.
At first, taking Michael to the hallway just outside of the classroom was effective in helping him manage the powerful feelings he was having. We sat together and I coached him through a variety of ways to calm himself. We would breathe together deeply, he would rub his thighs while gently rocking his body, and I would count with him or sing the ABC song backwards. (Yes, that was soothing for him!)
After a time, I would ask him if he was ready to return to the classroom. When he said yes, I would remind him that it was time for a “teacher choice“ activity and then ask “what will we do at your work space?” When he could reply “teacher choice” we would reenter the classroom and attempt the non-preferred activity again.
This calming method worked for a while, but then something changed. One day, while going through the standard calming options, Michael suddenly became overwhelmed by the impulse to pull out of my handhold, run down the hall and scurry up the stairs to the second floor. After capturing him and slowly walking hand-in-hand back down the stairs, I attempted to return his focus to the calming choices that had previously been so successful. Doing so took much more effort than it had in the past.
Over the next few days, my co-teacher noticed that another of the children in the class was also wanting to run in the hallway. After discussing possible solutions, she used rubber tape to make a large figure 8 on the floor just outside of our classroom. Not only did “walking the 8” became another calming choice for our students, it became the most frequent choice. “How many times will we walk the 8?” is now a standard question in the hallway.
Another classmate has found the 8 helpful as well. Sometimes the two children walk the 8 together, silently, hand in hand. Michael is comforted by the
rhythmic walking, the repetitive, defined pathway, and the fact that an empathetic classmate or teacher remains by his side, holding little his hand the entire time.
Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Early Learning program, for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.