Think about your classroom. Almost guaranteed, you’ll be able to pick out at least one student who has been labelled “creepy” or “weird”. This student probably keeps to themselves most of the time, and when they do interact with you or other students, it feels very awkward.
Being human, our instinct is to avoid things that feel “creepy”. We think that if we ignore it, it will go away. But, these “creepy” kids are the ones we absolutely should not ignore. These are the kids who, more than anyone else, need us to step up.
Students can appear “creepy” for a wide variety of reasons, but the one I have encountered the most was because of a lack of social understanding. Over the years, I have worked with a large proportion of students with Aspergers. In traditional classrooms, these students would be thought of as weird, creepy, or anything else along those lines. Some of them say strange things, some don’t say anything at all. Some won’t look at you, and some don’t stop looking at you. It is different behaviour, and it is sometimes hard to see past it, to what the student is capable of, and what they really need.
When I first started working with students with Aspergers, before I educated myself and learned strategies, all I had to go on was instinct. And instinct was exactly what I needed to fight against. Earlier in my teaching career, I had a student in grade 7 who would walk into my room, stop, and appear to be staring at me for 15 to 20 minutes. It was very disconcerting to say the least. Instinct told me to leave the room when he came in, to move away from him, and avoid the situation. But, I actually chose to do the opposite. If he wasn’t going to talk to me, I would talk to him. For weeks, I had one-sided conversations with him: asking him questions, talking about what was going on in the school, sharing some things I found interesting about science.
Finally, he started responding. And that’s when I learned, he wasn’t staring at me, he wasn’t trying to be weird or creepy, he was just thinking. My classroom what a place he felt comfortable, and when he came in, he could think about whatever he wanted to. He just happened to stop and think in the middle of the room, rather than sitting down. He wasn’t staring at me, he was just looking off into space while he thought, and I happened to occupy that space.
Taking the time to try and connect with this student, and understanding what was actually happening, rather than “avoiding the creepy kid” allowed me to develop a very trusting, mentoring relationship with that student. He felt safe and comfortable around me, and because of that, I could make suggestions on how he could modify his behaviour, without offending him or making him feel bad.
This student is still with me, in high school now, and soon to graduate. He has become one of the leaders in the school, He is respected by students and staff alike, and is a positive role model for new students. Had I not moved passed that idea of “the creepy kid”, I wouldn’t have the amazing student I do today. It took patients, hours and hours of conversations, and a lot of hope and faith for what he could become, but seeing this student every day, and seeing how happy he is being part of the school community, all of the effort was worth it!
It is so easy to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable, to try and move away from it. But, if you keep moving away from students that are unusual, we are missing out on the opportunity to help them become so much more, and to know some truly remarkable individuals.
Coming Soon: Taking on A-Typical Learners Part 3: Patience!