This is a tale of humor, scratched heads, plan Bs, and spray paint.
My Jake has a long history of struggling with transitions. Both entering and leaving school are just such examples. He’d bolt up to the school, or he’d tear off into the parking lot for his mother. Something had to be done to 1. make him safer, and 2. progress him towards independence. We didn’t want to have to hold his hand into and out of school.
Already he uses the less busy side entrance to the middle school, and already Beth parks as close to the path as is possible. Already someone walks him out at the end of the day. What could we do to help him accomplish this task on his own?
Enter Mrs. O. She had the idea of painting a pathway for him to walk on. It would have to be fun, and would have to engage him on some level to be effective. Aha! We could paint paws on the path, since the mascot is a huskie, and he’d be expected to touch a foot on each paw on his way in. He’d be walking a prescribed route, and he’d have to slow down enough to contact each painted paw. Excellent! The original thought was that white paint would be best because it would stand out. This was reconsidered when it was realized that half the school year sees snow on the ground. Best to go with Medway Middle School maroon; and it ties the huskie thing in, too.
The paws are especially close together, which would be fine if Jake didn’t look like he was running “stutter-step” basketball drills into school.
Also, the paws only go “in” to school. They don’t lead back out. Adding an “out” option would lead to TOO MANY paws!
So, the route was painted on the right side (stay in your own lane) of the path, and along the side of the building, for safety. It became evident on the first day of implementation that the kids all pile their backpacks against the wall when they play outside before the bell rings.
Enter Jacob – stutter-stepping up the right side of the path, then trampling over all the backpacks, trying to make sure he touches each and every one of the paw prints. Hahahahaha!
Plan B: Paint a second “I-295” path AROUND the backpacks. Now Jake has options when he gets to school, but the ground is decidedly crowded with paw prints. Problem one solved!
Problem 2: the paws are still uni-directional. There’s no logical path OUT of school. No big deal to your or I, but apparently a sticking point for Jake.
Problem 3: the dark maroon blends into the pavement in the dark early morning and mid-afternoons of Maine winters.
Proposed solution: paint bones in a bright, non-white color down the center of the path and straight to the door, a respectful distance from the wall. If you think about it, a bone is multi-directional. It is at the same time coming and going.
The reason I bring up this comedy of errors is because I think it highlights the extra special care and love shown towards Jake, and all students, in this region. The fact that the team found a problem, brainstormed an outside the box solution, and implemented it is telling, in and of itself. When this plan wasn’t perfect, they brought out the stencil (which had been made by the art teacher, btw) and made an alternate route. Even now, when this Plan B doesn’t seem to completely fit the bill, they’re trying to figure out how to remove dark maroon paint from hot top. That’s dedication.
I think it further shows that just because a solution to a problem seems clear cut and logical to the neurotypical mind, it might not work for someone with ASD. Kids on the spectrum, like Jake, are so unique that an “off the rack” or “cookie cutter” answer simply won’t work for everyone. One more cliche – one size does NOT fit all.
I wanted to offer this sincere “hats off” to those special people who toil and work/re-work the problems facing my Jacob. Stuff that’s not in the curriculum, and doesn’t show up on standardized tests. Stuff as commonplace as getting into school in the morning – something I’d always taken for granted.