Great Teachers Think Out-of-the-Box for their Special Needs Students
What can a teacher do with an anxious student—one who is afraid to engage? Like so many on the autism spectrum, my son’s first experiences at school were difficult. He was ignored by his peers—no birthday parties or sleepovers and often bullied. The teachers at his first school didn’t work well with students who learned differently. Though he wasn’t diagnosed at the time, we could see that he was struggling to keep up socially and academically.
He was smart and loved to learn so we knew that it wasn’t him…we just had him in the wrong school. He was funny and delightfully quirky so we knew we had him in the wrong social environment.
Luckily we found a school specifically for unique learners—a safe haven where teachers focused on the “whole” child and not just academics. We eagerly enrolled him for the next school year hoping that he would finally engage. But he didn’t.
His teachers could see his potential and set a plan in action (with my blessing) to see if they could break down his barriers and help him open up. We called it #ProjectHug. Every time they saw him—coming into class, or in a hallway or out on the playground—they’d give him a bear hug.
The impact it made on my son was profound. He describes it himself:
When I first arrived at the school I felt I didn’t fit in. I was very anti-social, introverted, and I just didn’t want to do anything. But one of the things that changed me was that every time my teachers saw me they’d say, ‘Jonathan, how ya been buddy?’ and give me a big bone-crushing hugs.
I’d stand still and say ‘Oh my god, not again.’ It was uncomfortable but thanks to all their efforts, I started to get more self-confidence. I started talking to more people. I developed a trust in the teachers and kids at the school.
My son became more active and involved at school and a few years later earned “Outstanding High School Student of the Year” and the coveted “Stanbridge Award” for being a good role model and leader. He talked about it being the turning point for him during his high school graduation speech. It gave him the confidence to go on to college, perform in theater and become a voice actor. Today, his character voices are in video games, apps, audio stories and even a major California theme park.
We created an interactive comic about #ProjectHug called The Mighty League, Vol 2: The Horrible Hug—Think star ship captain embarking on an adventure to an alien planet (aka a new school!). I worked with Jayne Clare of Teachers With Apps and Jayne Clare Consulting on a companion curriculum and activities guide.
The curriculum serves two purposes:
- Dispels the false assumptions often made by the general education population (both teachers and students) that “different” means “difficult” or disabled.
- Helps all children be more aware of their social and emotional health as well as those around them. It promotes appropriate social skills and gives students a “why they are important” overview.
Now I’m not saying #ProjectHug would be the thing to do with every child and I’m sure that his teachers would have stopped immediately if it caused my son more anxiety or stress. The point is that for the first time, we found a school with teachers who saw nothing but potential. And thanks to their creativity (and hugs) he soared! We hope his story turned comic and curriculum will do the same for your students!
Both the interactive comic and the curriculum are free. Click here for more details.
For additional educational tools with autism themes, check out Geek Club Books Autism EDU
Jodi Murphy is the founder of Geek Club Books, a 501c3 charity with an autism education and empowerment mission. They produce interactive children’s stories as apps, curriculum, digital media, and blog content to change perceptions and end stigmas surrounding autism. And they hire autistic talent to do it! She is also co-founder of Zoom Autism Magazine, a new digital magazine that focuses on autism through many lenses. Jodi dreams of the world where those on the autism spectrum are valued and given every opportunity to share their gifts with the world. Sign up for Geek Club Books mailing list for free apps, resource guides, curriculum, audio stories and more: www.geekclubbooks.com/email-sign-up.Geek Club Books