A NT girl typically says, “Lunch,” a time for chatting and gossiping with a side of eating. A NT boy usually says, “Recess,” when tag, football, four-square, and kickball abound. Ask one of my clients, let’s say a boy with Asperger’s, and that is not typically an automatic answer. Does that surprise you? Does that sound like you?
The traditional idea of recess as “freedom” from the watchful eyes of teachers, “freedom” to conspire, compete, and converse with friends, and “freedom” to do an activity of your choosing is constructed upon the foundation of socialization as inherently comforting, calming, facile, and rejuvenating. In this construct, recess is a break from a boring, sedentary day to do what you want to do when you want to do it. You just happen to be perfectly happy with your choices because they fit your “needs”: running, jumping, climbing, and talking.
What happens if you need something else from recess? You need solace, silence, and solitary moments. Recess is a break from a stressful day, with directions, rules, and interactions that always feel elusive and never static. Homework has begun to pile up, and there is only more coming. Noises, taps and touches, and distractions have overwhelmed. If you can just get to that tree, that track, that walkway, the slide, then you can refuel. You can cope by pacing, by processing the morning, or by planning for your after-school activities. You begin to think about that Lego set you are building and how you are only a few hundred pieces from being able to fly Darth Vader’s ship along side — “Tommy! Why don’t you play with Lucas and Evan?”
Lucas and Evan bully me. Lucas and Evan don’t play the way I want to. Lucas and Evan won’t let me be Darth Vader. Lucas and Evan make fun of me because I can’t catch the ball. Lucas and Evan get too close to me. Lucas and Evan shout in my ear. Lucas and Evan smell like Lunchables’ plastic. Lucas and Evan talk really fast. Lucas and Evan have never watched Star Wars. Lucas and Evan think Star Wars is stupid. Lucas and Evan call me retarded.
“I don’t want to.”
“But, Tommy, you are always alone at recess, talking to yourself and pacing. Don’t you want to have fun? It makes me feel bad to see you all alone.” So, our well-intented teacher attempts to convince our Aspie to flex his social muscles. After all, this is what kids do at recess, and we want our Aspie to fit that mold. Otherwise they aren’t learning, they aren’t working on their IEP goals (pragmatic language), and they look even more different.
These muscles, if flexed (involuntarily or otherwise), limp back into the classroom for the remainder of a long day. You ran a half marathon in the morning and had the other half in the afternoon but, somehow without you knowing, the course was lengthed just for you. So, you start your second 13.1 with 26.2 logged already.
Imagine giving a spelling test on the playground. A pop quiz during lunch. Teaching social studies from the slide or the basketball court. I don’t imagine it would go over well. It would cause dread and anxiety before AND after recess. Failing to consider the emotional needs of our Aspies results in the same.
This picture need not always evoke sadness.