Is there such a thing as an Autism Interpreter?
It seemed that the school for the blind needed a Jessica interpreter. Leaving Jess in a new environment with no one that knew or understood her was a bad idea.
Late on the night we got home from taking Jess to the school for the blind, we got a call from the Director of Residential Services. Suddenly, our optimism was greatly diminished. The call was to inform us that the house parents had called him because they were all afraid Jess was going to hurt them. They felt they were in danger.
He said Jess was talking to herself a lot, she was not being responsive to what was being said to her and had said she might hit somebody.
True enough, that can be her go to statement when she is pushed to the limit and really really frustrated.
During our discussion with the man, we learned that he did not know that Jessica is autistic. He did not know much about her at all. Neither did the house parents. The next time we were there to talk to the house parents, we found out that they did not know anything about Jessica. They had assumed they were getting another “typical” blind student.
We did what we could to explain and describe Jess to them. We assured them that her self-talk was not uncommon for autistic children. We tried giving them clues and keys to communicating with her. The house parents’ had a guarded demeanor, but seemed to at least listen. Some of the dorm staff seemed disappointed that Jess could not independently shower herself, which meant they were going to have to help her some. (Heaven forbid the helpers were going to have to help.)
When we first moved Jess into the cottage, she was so excited to have a roommate. She had been looking forward to making some friends. However, the feeling was not mutual.
One week, when Jess went back after a weekend break, Her roommate had moved down the hall to share a room with another student. Jessica’s self-talk and music playing had been bothering her roommate. Their solution was to assign a deaf student to share a room with Jess. That arrangement worked out okay, but the only way Jess could communicate with her roommate was for one of the house parents to be in the room with them. Jessica’s dream of having friends was quickly dissipating, as most of the kids in the cottage avoided her.
As time passed, things settled a little in the cottage. They got a little more used to Jessica and vice versa.
I wish the same could be said for what was happening in her classroom. Because of Jessica’s communication barriers she was not able to express to us things that were going on in the classroom. Occasionally, we would get little snippets of information about things that made Jess unhappy. For example, her teacher said that she could no longer play with a doll because she was too old for that. That same teacher also told Jess that she would never be a nurse or a caregiver. Jessica was crushed! As time passed, we continued to get a few more pieces of information here and there about things going on in the classroom. Mostly, they did not sound like good things.
Over time, we would learn details that told us our first impression of this teacher was not the right one after all.