One of my students was having a bad day so he came to hang out with me in the office, He watched my fish and the look on his face exuded the magic of observation that only kids that age can show. Though mostly non-verbal, his long eyelashes, squeals of delight and smile showed me that he enjoyed having time to chill out in a quiet spot. It was a magical 30 minutes for me as it was so quiet–just the soft hum of the fishtank’s filter, his breathing and occasional joyful utterance.
Several years ago, a different student at a different school also was a guest in the principal’s office. It wasn’t as calm to begin with. He was yelling, kicking, biting and screaming then suddenly, everything changed. “Him’s dead! Him’s dead! Your fish. Him’s dead!” He was so sad for my loss.
When I had a different child kicking the wall in my office on another day at still a different school, I happened to notice a dead fish. I quickly pointed it out, hoping my guest would go from chaotic to calm. Instead the boy stopped for a second then said, “Gross” before continuing with his tantrum. While the fishtanks didn’t help him regulate, the weighted quilt my mom made did. He went from kicking the wall to the quilt and the resistance provided just what he needed.
My work with children over the years prepared me for my most important job to date. When an exceptional toddler moved into my home, understanding the calming effects of water and sound helped him regulate. Heavy blankets he could hide under provided just what he needed to feel anchored. Though I’ve been an educator and parent for more than 3 decades, there’s a lot I don’t know and I’ve appreciated learning from others as well as my students and my own kids.
Fathering Autism and Finding Cooper’s Voice have been great resources in helping us better understand non-verbal communication and regulation strategies. As more and more children are diagnosed with autism, resources like these help caregivers, grandparents and schools a better understanding of the children they serve.
In my quiet moments, I find myself grateful for those who’ve made their journey so public.