Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On Failing Kindergarten

Trigger Warning: Quiet Hands

In my token Autistic speech (yes, I would replace my approved presentation with that at the last second if I thought I was being used as a token, BE WARNED,) one of the things I mentioned was that I would fail special needs kindergarten. (I was mainstreamed and there wasn't an issue.)
You see the posters of "proper listening" in your child's classroom? I can't do it. I would, legitimately, fail your child's kindergarten special ed class, today. I am not even joking. They would hold me back and I would be the adult who couldn't even pass kindergarten.
Despite my statement that I wasn't joking, I doubt you believed it. Maybe you thought I was exaggerating?
I wasn't. Here's a poster of the kind I'm talking about:

Image description: A poster with heading "Whole Body Listening!" and subheading "Larry wants to remind you to listen with your entire body." There is a picture of a young boy on the left, and on the right there are things to be done with each part, next to icons representing that body part: Eyes=Look at the person talking to you, Ears=Both ears ready to hear, Mouth=Quiet-no talking, humming, or making sounds, Hands=Quiet in lap, pockets or by your side, Feet=Quiet on the floor, Body=Faces the speaker, Brain=Thinking about what is being said, Heart=Caring about what the other person is saying.

And now, here's why I would fail special needs kindergarten:
  • Larry wants to remind you to listen with your entire body: UM. NO. One listens by using the brain to interpret and pay attention to the information coming in from the ears. My hands can't listen. I am a literalist, and I would bring this up. I actually knew that when I was the right age for kindergarten, too. So there's that.
  • Eyes=Looking at the person talking to you: As long as the general area of the person is good enough and they don't demand that it's actually their eyes, I can manage this one, usually. Enough to have managed in mainstream classes where they aren't always focused on it, but probably not enough for a special needs kindergarten where it's one of the big focuses. (Look, look, look!)
  • Ears=Both ears ready to hear: Not an issue, generally, but I haven't the foggiest how they assess that one. You can't look at my ears and tell when they are ready to hear or not, and sometimes being ready to hear and understand requires covering them to reduce the volume. Which they would probably consider not ready to hear.
  • Mouth=Quiet-no talking, humming, or making sounds: As far as I go, that works fine. I could do that when I am supposed to be listening. That's like, the only one which is easy to verify that is not an issue.
  • Hands=Quiet in lap, pockets, or by your side: I can't do that, and I have better things to do than waste time and energy trying. It's also abusive to demand it. No, really. Go read Quiet Hands. But as far as I can't do it goes: I'm in college. I still can't do it. I have to doodle or something. Sewing, knitting, or making chainmail seem to work best, since I don't have to think about what I'm doing with my hands and can still participate in class discussions. And yes, people tried to teach me not to do this. It didn't work. The worst I ever dealt with as far as quiet hands in class was probably the time in Hebrew school when my teacher kept confiscating whatever object on my desk I was fidgeting with. In the end, she took my pen. Yes, really. A teacher took away my writing implement in class in an attempt to get me to sit still. Obviously, it didn't work. There was a string tie on my shorts, and I played with that instead. She threatened to cut the strings off, and I told her she'd be buying me a new pair of shorts if she did. She did not make good on her threat. 
  • Feet=Quiet on the floor: I can't do that one, either. I rock my feet, jiggle a leg, or sit on my feet. Or I W-sit. Yeah, I'm a W-sitter. Yes, I still do it. No, I don't have problems from it. People never made a fuss about that one. I didn't even know it was "bad" until one day in speech therapy when the therapist made comment on it. (I had trouble with the "r" sound for a long time. Actually, I still do. I just learned how to make the Chinese "r" sound and no one notices the difference so I use it all the time.) 
  • Body=Faces the speaker: I can do it, but I don't understand the point. This one wouldn't be a direct contribution to failure, though, since, you know, can do it.
  • Brain=Thinking about what is being said: Ok, yeah, that's a thing. I can do it. One problem: There is no way for an educator to check if this is the case. 
  • Heart=Caring about what the other person is saying: MY HEART DOESN'T CARE ABOUT THINGS. My brain does. I will now proceed to be distracted by this issue because I am autistic and technicalities like that bother me. Whoops. Also, it has the same issue as brain.
That's eight body parts we're talking about. Three (ears, brain, heart) aren't actually checkable by educators. One I can do, but it 100% irrelevant for me (body.) One I can do, but it is easier not to and I listen better when not worrying about it (eyes.) Two are completely impossible for me to accomplish (hands, feet.) Even without having to worry about listening as well, I can't do them. And one, only one (mouth) is actually a useful thing that people can check for.
We've got eight bullet points, only one of which is a thing you can check that is important for my ability to listen, so this isn't exactly the epitome of helpfulness. And three of the things are actively bad, are things where if they were to be part of what I get evaluated on, I would fail. You thought I was exaggerating when I said I would fail special needs kindergarten? If I couldn't use my articulateness to type my way out of it, that would be exactly what happened.


  1. Thank you for this post. Another reminder about unrealistic expectations that are not based on any research into best teaching practices.

    As a high school teacher I would never have had these expectations for students, so I am amazed by the ignorance that would have this poster as expectation for little ones in kindergarten. You are so right that the only observable body parts mentioned are the ones that are meaningless to listening (hands, feet, body) -- so the teacher would judge the child as not listening because of body movement!

    I taught high schoolers and knew that kids doodling, fidgeting, not looking at me (and please, that would be egotistical to expect all eyes on me!) did not mean inattentive. I learned to evaluate engagement based on the individual child/teen and not have the same expectations across the board. And this was teaching regular ed students.

    Now I homeschool my little one for kindergarten. And nope, sitting still would not be optimal, especially when she is really engaged and excited about the learning. Excitement = whole body excitement and so does engagement. To expect the "stillness" that that poster implies is a ridiculous expectation for young children. The poster isn't about listening; it is about the teacher's expectation of a very narrow view of what attentiveness should look like, and one that focuses on the teacher (all eyes on me!) and not the kids.

    As an education consultant who visited teachers in the classroom, the hardest thing to explain to teachers was that the focus is not on us but on our students; moving away from the model in that poster and being responsive to students can be difficult for many adults. But when we don't, it can be detrimental to children.

    Thank you for this; I hope some of those folks actually LISTENED to you.

  2. These posters always creeped me out when I was in grade school. I wasn't in special needs classes, but we had different iterations of posters like these around the school, and regular lessons from the librarian about proper listening posture. It was frightening because I knew I couldn't do it for any length of time, if anyone were actually paying attention, and then I'd be in trouble for one more thing that I couldn't really control or that was outside the bounds of the energy I had to spend. And anyway, if I'm truly listening, I can't be spending this much attention on monitoring my body.

    I always liked curling my legs up on my chair under my desk, half-lotus style. In grade school this was improper leg-crossing; you had to have your ankles crossed. Then in college I had a professor who saw me doing it and goes "Oh I just love sitting like that! Isn't it so comfortable?"

  3. I have chosen to homeschool ~ Our area has limited options...One lauded to me (along with that patronizing, "oh you are going to homeschool" look), is an "Autism class" ...Mind you, the experts/therapists/professionals that teach it are taught old school behaviorist approaches. My son receives his therapy through our school system, so I have had a glimpse of how "teaching" him works and does NOT work for him. Incidentally we decided last night that we are completely discontuing all therapy for him. Anyhoo, I had to explain to all of his therapists that I want ALL references to eye contact removed from the IEP...& WHY insistence on eye contact is counterproductive. That is just the start. It all seems so dehumanizing, their harassing him to comply with threats of not receiving a damn sticker...HA how they overestimate his desire for a sticker. (Funny recent session, he spent the WHOLE hour answering "Peanuts" and "Go Away". I thought it was pretty hilarious.) On to the school thing...Our "best" option is this "Autism class" which does not extend past 1st grade to my knowledge, then typical "special needs" classes (ugh) or mainstreaming. He can't do mainstreaming yet. He was attending a small pre-K and (thank you Goddess he can articulate this stuff so well now) he told us that there were "too many eyes" there...He was overwhelmed and scared...and showing it in his actions. So, we decided to let him live...Let him be...Exactly who he is. No therapy...No traditional schooling (unless he later expresses a desire to do so). People harp on socialization, too...I think it was Tasia who wrote that piece on socialization/context. That pretty much nails it for us - I have learned to overlooked the naysayers as ALL of them have no clue what they are talking about.

  4. I think it's pretty ludicrous that they require the child to care about what the other person is saying. People don't always care about what other people are saying. But what they're basically teaching these children is, not only do you have to look like you care (by being a good listener), you have to ACTUALLY care about what the person is saying. For literal-minded kids, which autistic children often are, this will make them feel like they're somehow failing at being good listeners if they just can't bring themselves to care about what the other person is telling them. I imagine that the poster is trying to get children to respect what other people say, but they unfortunately worded it in such an inappropriate, unfair and misleading fashion.

    1. You give them more benefit of the doubt than I do, there. My main point was "you can't tell," but no, I think they are actually saying that we need to care because Things Adults Say are Gospel Truth and Important Always.

  5. The eyes and hands thing always bothered me, too (what do they have to do with listening?). The others I hadn't even noticed, so thanks for the education! Next time I see this poster on Pinterest, I might just put a link to this post in the comment section.

  6. I'm almost certain that, if my elementary school had had a poster like this, I would've gotten several complaints for looking toward people's mouths. (Because really, that's where the sounds are coming from! Why shouldn't I be looking there? It helps with my auditory processing!) And then been even more confused, because that's totally looking at the person talking to me, isn't it?

    And of course, being the literal-minded person that I am, I also would've totally argued that quietly flapping my hands by my side was perfectly allowable according to those instructions. I mean, really, you have to make an effort to hand-flap audibly.

  7. This must be something new because back when I was a kid, all you had to do was pass your class assignments and get them done to advance to the next grade. I never got any of this as a kid. Plus if you have an IEP, would they make accommodations for you?

    1. It's something that they put in special Ed classrooms, meaning its a thing they do to the kids who have IEPs more than anyone else. I didn't have to do it either, because I was in a mainstream class.

  8. If this is the criteria to pass kindergarten, then I most definitely would have failed. Dismally.

  9. The thing they tell parents these days: Kids must be "table-ready" to learn. I beg your pardon? To be ready to learn does NOT require sitting at a table. It might even *require* moving around, being outside, exploring.

    1. Could not agree with you more about the "table-ready" business, Brenda... we were told this *exact* same thing when my son's home ECI visits were about to end because he was coming on 3 years old.

      We had already been homeschooling my NT daughter, so had every intention of doing the same with our son. We *almost* took their advice to transition him into the public school's early start program, until they admitted (upon my persistent questioning for details) that the primary focus would be getting him "table ready," and nothing else would be addressed until this issue was resolved. My response to this was "Well, my ultimate intention is to homeschool, so he will never need to be immersed into a classroom environment. And I have no intention of ever making him sit at a table for an entire day, so making him table-ready serves no practical purpose for us. So... why should we do this again?" Kinda ended up answering my own question, and our case worker ended up agreeing with us. She said something along the lines of "Well, yeah you make a good point. There really is no reason for him to go if he will never be mainstreamed... You probably *should* just keep him home."

      So, at this point in time, he is now 5, and his little brother is 4 and also on the spectrum (that whole circus was about to start up again for him, and we just politely declined services altogether.) My daughter is now 10 and NOT on the spectrum, but even she cannot reliably look a person in the eyes or keep from fidgeting while listening, and she is a *superb* listener. I don't think ANY of them could sit at a desk/table for more than 15 minutes at a time.

      I think people forget sometimes that humans are actually part of the animal kingdom. There is an inherent wildness to our children that is a critical part of their existence and experience of life, and it needs an outlet for expression. So I think you are spot on in your supposition that maybe they DO *require* moving around, being outside, and exploring! :)

  10. Anyone notice a strong resemblance between that poster and nazi era propaganda?

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  12. I remember patiently explaining to the teacher, "Feet. Can't. Hear."

  13. I love this, thank you,
    Just shared on Facebook because whole body listening stuff has been on PACLA page and the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library page this week.
    Any chance you could update the poster link? It's not working for me.

  14. So how do you suggest teaching a class of 20 plus 4-6 year olds to listen during instruction? Teachers have extremely high demands and expectations on what their students should be able to do and unfortunately kindergarten students are not excluded. I have taught first grade for 5 years and now I am traching kindergarten and have been trying every method I can find to help my students in the classroom. I do lots of brain breaks, movement, hands on activiries, but there is still times I need to teach whole group, and the school expects certain behaviors from students (whether I or anybody else agrees or not). I would love any tips on how a teacher could effectively helped you with listening as a ypung learner. I love my kids and I want to find whatever it takes to help them become successful. Thank you for any ideas!

    1. By *not assuming what listening looks like*

      Also: I am very specifically referring to the demands of appearing abled that get added in IEPs. I passed gen ed kindergarten fine. Doing ok with me as a student isn't full inclusion by any means, but literally sticking to the normal expectations rather than extra ones about hiding autistic traits covered me at age 5.

  15. How am I supposed to listen better if I'm focusing part of my attention on maintaining balance in an uncomfortable position? Let me sit how my body wants to sit!

    One of my least favorite things about uni was the chairs that would dig painfully into you if your sitting position was even slightly nonstandard. I ended up stealing a chair from the nearby computer lab for my last class. At least the instructor was accommodating, and didn't object to me bringing my own chair.


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