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“She’s just lazy, she can use her words but she’s not even trying today.”

by Adina Levy

Here’s the situation: You’re a teacher and you have an autistic girl in your class (let’s call her Julie). Julie communicates in different ways, depending on her level of comfort and various other factors that are not always apparent. You understand and accept her communication attempts whether she’s speaking, using gestures, writing, or using her iPad/AAC device.

One of the Learning Support Teachers (a.k.a. Teacher’s Aide, let’s call her Shae) often says this to you about Julie “She’s just lazy, she can use her words but she’s not even trying today”.

OK so what should you do? Choose your own adventure… Here are 3 possible pathways:

  1. Let it slide, say nothing to Shae. It’s hard to educate others and your busy job doesn’t leave much time or space for this. Just keep supporting Julie yourself as best as you can with understanding and compassion, meeting her where she’s at in any given moment
  2. Spend time over the next few weeks understanding Shae’s beliefs, knowledge, values and background to her perspectives about communication methods and about autism. Get curious about her viewpoint, while you model accepting all communication methods and accepting Julie’s skills as they are. Use your new knowledge of Shae’s perspectives and beliefs to target updated and new information, aligned with her own questions, doubts, struggles and curiosity. Work with her to notice and discuss the outcomes, when she shows more acceptance for Julie’s multimodal communication and (ideally!) increases connection, joy and engagement for Julie.
  3. Firmly tell Shae that her approach is incorrect and will not be tolerated in your classroom. Hand her a book to read about accepting all forms of communication.

Which would you generally do, which would your ‘knee-jerk’ reaction be, and which approach would you like to move towards?


Number 2 is more likely to result in positive outcomes for everyone.

However, it’s hard. It takes regulation, patience, and connection.

I’ll be sharing much more about Julie and ideas and practical tips and tools for navigating this challenging collaboration scenario, as well as others… in my webinar Collaborative Connections: Neurodiversity Affirming Practice – Change the World Around Children: Coach and Communicate with Carers & Teams of Neurodivergent Children.

Together, let’s learn more about Julie and other practical ways we could collaborate in challenging scenarios.

To learn more and join me, tap below! 

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