“Don’t Be Autistic” (Adventures in TEFL #5)

In the Adventures in TEFL series, I will be recounting stories from my year in Thailand Teaching English As A Foreign Language (TEFL) to students age 11-16Applied philosophy is used to take these lessons for utilization outside the classroom.


Crashing A Party

I remember as an English teacher in Thailand last August I had already spent a fair amount of time on the job. About 3 months to be exact back in August, I noticed some signs that were hung up as I walked up the stairs to the classrooms.

Now these were written in Thai so I had little idea what they said. I looked at the images though and they seemed to be that of adults with school children plus the English words “Open House” were written so it had to mean parents were going to be present.

I looked over the scwiggly markings (how I describe Thai words) and saw amist the gibberish: “19 (Thai word) 2562 (the year on the Thai Calendar)” The 19th (or thereabouts) was a Saturday. So based on my guestimation, the Open House was going to be on the coming Saturday where I could meet some of the parents of my students.

So that Saturday, without consulting anyone, I just showed up at the school. The head of the junior high/high school students, “Ms. Add” was very surprised to see me.

“Do you want to see some parents?” Ms. Add asked

“Yes”

She then asked,

Do you speak Thai?”

Well…”

Ms Add disappeared for a while.

Ms. Add, always supportive of my crusades to make better students

When she returned a young and good looking woman with a warm smile (Thailand is the “Land of Smiles” after all) was next to her. Let’s call her Ms. G.

Ms.G explained that she would be my translator today and we went about setting up an impromptu station for me to meet some parents.

The parent teacher conference went along much like when I was growing up with the 2 caveats being:

1. I was the teacher now.

2. There was a translator present

Smoke ‘Em, Smoke ‘Em Real Good

I learned more about individual students. Some were growing up in troubled families, one was said to be autistic, another found English unnecessary (oh dear) and on and on.

The great and not so great students started to blur together as I was not used to meeting so many new people all at the same time. But then one of moms that showed up made me sit up and pay attention.

This mom said she was the mother of one of the 9th grade boys. Now this boy was the student I liked least, a very disruptive “student” that made an already challenging class into a whole new level of unpleasantness.

Heck I remember when his cousins moved to a different school I was (internally) screaming,

“WAIT, take him too!”

Now was my chance to do something about this boy. I got his momma now. After the basic pleasantries where I learned the mom spoke fluentish English, I began roasting this boy.

Starting off with my statement that I thought he was the worst student out of all my 90 students, continuing with my thoughts on how he probably thinks he has a silver spoon in his mouth so doesn’t have to work and on and on.

While spewing this little monologue of mine, I could tell Ms. G, who was so kind in assisting me so far, was hesitant in translating my words. This mom knew enough English to understand my point. She countered with a few calculated points which I didn’t really listen to. We ended the conversation with more pleasantries but I could sense a tension between us.

After wrapping everything up and leaving for the day I saw a group of 8th grade parents huddled outside, I waved and called out that it was nice meeting them before leaving.

Be Economical With The Truth

The following Monday the head teacher pulled me aside to talk about my unannounced insertion into the open house. He asked me next time to let him know before going in, with the pretext being he wanted to be there to back up any miscommunication as he spoke fluent Thai.

Afterwards he asked me what I learned about the students. The whole spiel would be too long a conversation. The important thing is when I got to the 9th grade boy’s mom and what I said, the head teacher said I needed to be more “economical with the truth.” I didn’t want to listen, I’ve always been a straight shooter and intended to keep it that way. In my childlike innocence I didn’t realize the world isn’t always so black and white.

I failed to understand social situations. As I taught in a private school, the students were sometimes viewed upon as paying customers with it being important to keep said students (& their parent by extension) happy.

Me going on and on about how terrible one student is doesn’t help anyone and only serves to antagonize people. Luckily for me there were only 2 9th grade parents that came to the open house because parents talk. The group of 8th grade parents I saw before leaving may very well have been taking about me, the only foreign teacher present. And needlessly aggravating one could easily turn the lot against me.

Because a very human fact is that the truth is what it is, but often times we don’t want to hear it. We may know it’s true, but we don’t like it when people call us short/fat/bald. Therefore, oft times, the truth turns people against us, making needless enemies.

Plus, you never know when you’ll mess with the wrong person whom can really hurt you.

Don’t Laugh At The Emperor

A very clear cut example of this is the story of “the emperor has no clothes.” Everyone knows the emperor is butt naked, but no one dare say in fear of reprisal. No one except for the innocent child. So often times it is necessary to be “economical” with the truth, withhold it, or repackage it with the purpose being two fold.

1. You get your point across

2. And you get what you want.

Be aware of social situations, don’t be autistic* like me.

*By autistic I refer to a lack of understanding of social situations


Previous Posts:

Dear Young Person: Why You Need To Be An English Teacher In Thailand (Adventures in TEFL Thailand #1)

“The Dangers of Unfairness” (Adventures in TEFL #2)

“Humble Service: You Need To Care First” (Adventures in TEFL #3)

“Teaching Voiceless” (Adventures in TEFL #4)

11 thoughts on ““Don’t Be Autistic” (Adventures in TEFL #5)

  1. Hope all is well with you, Kingston! Thank you for using yourself as an example of what not to say! I can relate. When I taught at an Islamic school, I once had a father who spoke little English come to a conference. He requested that his second-grade daughter not play with boys. That was something I had no control over, even if I had agreed with him. I did realize that his request came from his culture and his love for his daughter. Never easy, is it? Take care, Cheryl

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    1. I think it’d be a great idea if you wrote another article about this experience in a Muslim school Cheryl. Anyways isn’t always so simple. And I found sometimes it’s not our place to tell people the truth.

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  2. Did you know the background of the home life or the child’s life before giving your 2 cents? I am asking out of curiosity because disruptive children are not always spoiled or born with a silver spoon in their mouth and for people to assume that seems kinda ignorant. No, I am not trying to be rude. I would like to hear your side of the story more I guess and also hear me out on this.

    Rather my parents had a hefty income, or rather I was spoiled or not has nothing to do with my personal journeys of being a child.

    I am female and on the autism spectrum, but was not officially diagnosed until a later age even though my parents took me in for tests as a very small child. I believe I was like 3 or 4 when I was given my first tests. My autism went undiagnosed and missed for so long because for so long the diagnosis criteria had a lot to do with how it is seen in males, not females. I am sure there were other reasons, but I know that was definitely one of the reasons. The diagnostic criteria is pretty much how male are you when you are tested, at least it still was like that when I received a diagnoses. My parents did not have much resources or support with raising me because the lack of a diagnosis. Though they had the unconditional and amazing support from family members such as my grandparents and my aunt who worked with me day in and day out etc. I attended both motor skill therapy and speech lessons as I was very delayed in both. I actually attended speech therapy classes until I was in grade 7 and chose to willingly drop it due to the bullying. As a result I still have few notiable speech problems, especially with certain sounds. However, I know enough to communicate properly and apparently as arrogant grade 7 student going into grade 8, I figured it was enough. I regret it, and may seek further speech lessons in the near future. I was a very disruptive and distracted student. My grades were horrible because any small noise, or class room mate talking distracted me….the blinding lights distracted me. A classroom was not the correct learning environment for me I felt…no matter how hard I tried. Instead I missed out on lunch hour both in elementary school and high school (afterschool as well) to have one on one time with the teacher. I did everything in my power to do my best at school, with my grades and how I acted. It seemed though no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t matter. I felt the school environment is to conditioned to teach one way. My choice was to take normal classes with my classmates in a very noisy and mind numbing environment or take special ed courses that was more independently taught or smaller classes. I didn’t think I needed to be in special ed, I didn’t necessarily have learning difficulties. I actually know since I left high school (A chapter in my life I am glad I am done with and never would repeat again) I am actually pretty intelligent, that just the school environment was not built for someone like me. I think my reasons for acting out, being disruptive, distracted or being that ‘bad’ kid is a combination of not receiving a diagnosis soon enough to get access to resources or support available, and because the school system really did not care to cater to children like me. I worked harder than a lot of straight A students in school and still came up short every time. My brother could study an hour for a test the night before and ace the test, I studied with help for hours on end and barely got a passing grade a lot of the time unless it was a class I had an interest in. I spent 2-3 hours on math homework a night and spending one on one with the teacher everyday to get a low C. The only time I got a B was in Math 9 and it was because I was taught by a teacher who actually did care about my needs and thought it was important I just don’t give up in frustration or no matter how hard it got. He believe in me and to a child like me, that meant the world to me. And this is a Canadian school system I attended. So I imagine in some other countries where the school systems are a lot worse or a lot more behind on times.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this story, it is helpful to have a first hand recount from a person that actually has autism. As I don’t have it as a diagnosable impairment, I cannot speak directly about it. All I can come from (and try to do so) is to emphasize the importance of being socially aware.

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      1. Anytime. Thank you for your comments and like that sometimes we don’t always know the situation when it comes to other families. Believe me, I use to work with children and in day cares. I assumed a lot of the time bad kids must just be spoiled. One day, I had a huge eye opener when I found out one of these boys in the day care I worked at was only disruptive and over whelmed when he was playing with large group of friends. He had a hard time sharing, he struggled socially and had a hard time responding the correct way. I come to find out he was much better playing with one or two friends or by himself. He showed other signs that reminded me of myself when I was young and I suggested to his parents that I can’t say rather he is on the autism spectrum or not, but it may be beneficial to look into talking to a doctor about his struggles, cause he was a really kind and bright boy given the right environment. He became one of my favorite kids to work and play with. However it also helped his parents mentioned they were having some trouble with him at home, and they constantly were seeking support and help from me and the day care owner. I appreciated their interest to want to do better for their child and not just ignore there was a problem. If the mother you spoke to disregarded your comments than she is ignorant to the fact there may be a problem and her child is actually disruptive. Being disruptive or whatever it may be does not mean you are a bad kid, it may just mean there is some underlyning problem and hopefully is not just result of being spoiled. If it is a result of being spoiled, than the parent is the problem which you kind of mentioned. So I don’t think what you said entirely was wrong, but sometimes it can help to dig to the root of the problem. Maybe the parent was the problem though.

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  3. And that is just a small story or detail of my upbringing. For someone who is autistic or say has a disruptive home life (my parents are also alcoholics btw at least since my teens. I don’t think they were when I was a kid as those years seems to be their most beloved years. My grandparents had a lot to do with raising me and why I have some good qualities now :P) it is almost impossible to get someone who is not on the spectrum or has other things they have to over come to understand. Autism is not a disease, it is not even a disorder. I actually hate that word. My autism is me. My brain is wired differently and for me to survive in a society that is not understanding of that can be very over whelming and difficult, even to this day. I however now lead an independent life and it is not due to using my autism as an excuse. I cater to society actually because apparently autism is not an excuse to be yourself. It is something that angers me so much. Like if I tell someone I am overwhelmed and it is not helping or whatever it is, the response is something like I am weak. I am weak for being myself? I am weak for becoming overwhelmed by things I cannot control? I am distracting to other people because I cannot help the way I react when I am over whelmed. Sure….I do things that calm me, I have found things that help me in my everyday challenges. But why is it us that is working so hard just to feel okay for a brief moment? Here is my question…why are autistics always bending to society rules and not the other way around?

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    1. Again, I cannot speak directly about actual autism. I will say from first hand experience that in most instances, majority rules.

      An example, people in the states categorize people as “Asian Americans”, “African Americans” “Mexican Americans” and so on and so forth but never “Caucasian Americans” as Caucasians make up the largest group in this type of categorization.

      Rightly or wrongly, that’s just the way the world goes.

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      1. Like that, I was not sure if the mother of the boy you were speaking to had a son with autism or perhaps something else that caused the boy to be ‘disruptive’ or more of a spoiled nature. Maybe like you said the boy was not working hard to try and adjust to society or the classroom environment. Many kids are spoiled after all I would say, especially in America. If you are a parent of a child who is autistic it is even more important to help that child and reach out for any support you can get. Especially high functioning autism. People with high functioning autism with the right resources and support can actually grow up to do really well in the world and lead a happy and successful life. I just feel it is so important to get help as a child. Ignoring it or looking for a cure that does not exist is probably the worse thing any parent can do for their child as it poison’s the relationship and causes much more problems than there needs to be. If that makes sense. Again I had no idea the details of your experience other than what you shared and the title of the post kinda caught me off guard.

        The majority doesn’t need to rule though, we as citizens can fight that. In the near future it is actually predicted caucasions will no longer be the majority, but at best the minority-majority. As much as there is still inequality in even the western world we have seen amazing equality breakthroughs for minorities and females as well. It always could be better, but I am thankful for the small achievements we have over came. Right now it is more of an issue with government and power, and I don’t really feel anyone is really benefitting. Anyone can become successful in America if you want to follow the one step capitalistic platform. There are many blacks and other minorities who are very successful, but they worked hard for it and didn’t use their skin color to hold them back. I try to do the same and look for the best life for myself and be happy without using my autism as an excuse. I don’t let society or the government decide my life, because if I wait for them to change I will be waiting a long time. There have been breakthroughs with autism as well and there are so many more resources and support in the western world for people on the autism spectrum than there use to be and the diagnosis criteria is getting a lot better. Which is why we are seeing more diagnosis of autism. It is not that there is a spike in autism, the more we make breakthroughs with the diagnosis, more children and adults are able to get diagnosed so they can get the support and help they need. I think it’s a great thing and will hopefully continue to get better. We can always improve as humans and society. 🙂

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      2. Definitely, we can always improve. And to clarify, I was referring to myself as being “autistic” (by lacking social awareness) when I was berating that mother which could have turned the entire class of parents against me

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