Covid-19 can’t stop immersion!
Academic and Social Immersion is a successful model for teaching children with autism spectrum disorder and their neurotypical peers. We have the hard data that shows academic growth, behavioral improvements, and increased social engagement. But what happens when you remove the structure of a supportive school environment and the immediate support of teachers? What does a school disruption (like we have never seen before) mean for our students in an immersion model? Does the whole thing fall apart?
It absolutely does not fall apart. Immersion is thriving.
How do I know? I listen to the parents, teachers, and students themselves. I can hear in the stories coming out of this remote learning environment that Academic and Social Immersion has worked its way into the hearts and minds of our community: teachers, parents, and most importantly children. Let me share a few of these stories with you.
Many of our teachers have been hosting class via the ZOOM teleconferecing website. What thrills and amazes them is how many times the class “hijacks” the session to chat and be social. They miss each other and want to be together. If this was simply a case of a friend missing a friend, they could Facetime or something more private at home. What we are seeing time and again is the WHOLE class wanting to stay in touch and connected. THIS IS IMMERSION.
Teachers have been trying to reach out and meet the needs of all students. Another student with ASD asked if the group could meet for lunch on ZOOM to just hang out. Their needs are less about help with a math problem or editing a paper and more about being connected with their group. THIS IS IMMERSION.
A mother of a second grade peer commented that most of the second grade is hanging out virtually on the Messenger app. One student needs his mom to be his voice to help him interact. Her daughter and the rest of the class are “not bothered by this because they want him included. They are already oriented to the different ways people communicate.” The mother added, “they include everyone because the important thing is that they can see and hear one another–perhaps not in person, but in a familiar way. Everyone is important to the group.” THIS IS IMMERSION
Amy, the mom of one of our kindergarten students with ASD, shared the following: “Calin usually only acknowledges friends if they play his games on his terms, which is always physical play (chasing/running/wrestling). Otherwise he has no interest in what friends are doing. He doesn’t seem to mind this, resulting in ‘no real friends’ at all, but it breaks my heart. Will there be a day he is sad that he has no friends? Will he ever ask for a play date or sleepover? Will he have a best friend like I did growing up? Is he liked? Do kids want to play him or are they annoyed by him? All these questions truly break my heart when I consider the possible answers.” These feelings are very common among the parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. In wanting the best for our children, we want them to have the kinds of friendships and social experiences that we had and cherish.
Recently, one of Calin’s classmates reached out to Calin via Facebook Messenger Kids, which many students are using to stay connected. Amy continues, “Eleanor has called Calin several times prior and I would ask him if he would like to talk to her and he would say “no thanks, I’m fine” and run away. But she kept calling, so I finally told him he HAD to talk to her. He begrudgingly sat down. They both said hello to each other with me prompting Calin to use her name. Eleanor didn’t skip a beat and immediately started playing with filters on the messenger app that turn your face into something else like a cat/tiger/hamburger/etc. He just laughed hysterically each time she changed her face and Eleanor would say “isn’t that funny, Calin?!” He would just laugh and laugh and ask her verbally for more. “
“Then she asked him to play a game with her and proceeded to start the game. I was a nervous wreck, thinking “He’s never done this before. Will he understand and be able to participate? Will she get frustrated if he doesn’t want to play and hang up? Will he be mean and run away? Will she say to me, “why won’t he talk to me?” Will this end like similar situations with the kids we see at playgrounds?” They went back and forth doing this with almost no prompting from me to wait his turn. (At the end of the game)… she finally selected the snake and lost. At first he teased her with that ‘nana nana boo boo’ that we all know. Nervously, I asked him to be nice and tell her good game, so he quickly shouted “good game!!” With a smile on her face, Eleanor immediately began another game with him. This time they both had faces like fish and had to use their mouths to catch as many fish as they could. Again he interacted successfully the entire time. There were moments throughout that he would say “all done, no more talk” and push the phone in my direction. I would start to say something about politely saying goodbye to his friend, but Eleanor would just switch it up and catch his eye with a new game or funny face, and he would be sucked right back in laughing and playing with her again. Eventually he said he was done and actually got up and walked away, so I had him say goodbye and I thanked Eleanor and we hung up. I was almost in tears. ”
“Eleanor showed me that Calin IS liked and his friends DO want to play with him and they will gladly play the way that they know Calin can be successful in order to spend some time with him. Truly made heart so happy and grateful for our school community. “
Calin is not the only one to benefit from this interaction. The love, patience, and understanding shown by Eleanor is a gift to Calin, but also a gift to herself. She has learned to accept and love people and to meet people where they are. Most importantly, she is being a good friend. THIS IS IMMERSION.
These trying times may be filled with separations. They may be affecting how we learn and how we work and even how we spend time together. However, the power of being part of a social group and the drive to include everyone in your community because everyone is important is going strong in our children. THIS IS IMMERSION.