July 2, 2021

Students who don’t follow directions give me so much strength.

When a student seems to be ignoring what I’ve asked them to do, my outer response is very different from my inner response. My outer response is: Confirm that they heard me. Break it down into smaller steps. Present the steps visually, or in writing. Remind them why participation matters. Make sure they have the supports they need to focus – a fidget toy, a quiet space, enough time to process, calm reassurance that it’s safe to make mistakes.

But my inner response, in my silent thoughts, is more like: “Yeah! Way to go! You have effectively communicated that one of two things is true: Either you don’t want to follow my directions, or you can’t. I’ll assume that you can’t, and support you accordingly – but if you could, and you didn’t, then I applaud your bravery in choosing your own path.”

Such students are stronger self-advocates than I was for most of my life. The more they fight the system, the more they inspire me to do the same.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.