Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Development of Empathy

I visited Caleb's new class yesterday. I am very impressed with the teacher, as I get to know her better and watch her in action. She has infinite patience! However, I'm a bit disappointed that the classroom is so much set up like his pre-primary impaired classroom. I was hoping for a similar set-up to his last class...that is more like a school classroom, but with a few centers too. Because of this, we've decided to up his days at regular education (the special ed. classroom) to 3. Thus he'll go to this new ASD classroom only 2 days out of the week.

The class itself has only 4 students. The boy similar in ability to Caleb was absent that day, but the 2 other children were very clearly lower ability and high needs were there. That day, I got to witness something that truly brought tears to my eyes and a sweet smile to my heart :) One of the high needs students, I'll label "B." was having a day full of meltdowns. He spent most of the morning in his tent with earmuffs to keep out the noise, and a vibrating pillow to help calm him. After lunch, Caleb, the teacher, and I came back to the classroom and found B. sitting at the beanbag area. As I talked to the teacher, Caleb went over and laid next to B. on the beanbags. He gently took B.'s hand, and rubbed it as he smiled at B (and B. smiled back). They stayed in that position for several minutes. It was as if Caleb was saying, "I've been there..I feel for you!" We all marveled at the empathy and care shown between the 2 boys. No one "gets it" like they do! No matter what others may diagnose as lacking in social ability, they both proved otherwise in one small moment! After a bit, a staff member tried to get B's attention for something else, and he once again broke into a large tantrum. Caleb calmly got up and went to the lego table to free play. He wasn't phased by the tantrums one bit! It helped me really internalize that education is more than academics. No one could have reproduced this social experience of empathy by mere teaching techniques. It came from feeling a connection to another child who deals with what you deal with. It made me very glad that I have tried to do both worlds for Caleb...the autistic world, and the neurotypical world. Hopefully, he gets the best of both! Everyone needs to be able to relate to another person when it comes to struggles that we go through. Caleb and B. are no different!

**The pics are from Caleb's 8th birthday that he just celebrated last week. He loved his new Lego Toy Story & Lego Star Wars sets! **


Elizabeth Channel said...

I cannot agree more that so much socially is learned in that classroom setting. I have been so heartened by my own son's description of children at his school who might be nonverbal or non-ambulatory. He's so matter-of-fact and accepting: "He's just like me, except he talks with his eyes and smiles instead of his mouth," or "She's just like everyone but uses her chair to move around." I do not think he would have this empathy if he weren't exposed to these children on a daily basis, and I know my 'neurotypical' (whatever that means) child does not have this type of sensitivity whatsoever.

Jen B said...

I love your child's comments! I think that our autistic child's first language is often nonverbal. They catch nonverbals that most of us miss. My other neurtypical children have more empathy than most because of their brother, but I've never seen them reach out quite like this. I love to see these moments where I can pinpoint my child's strengths. I prayed on the way home from his school that it would develop in such a way that, once he's an adult, he'd make a difference for children with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

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