Kids with autism may not be good at making friends, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want them.
Sometimes they need to be taught the basic skills of friendship like sharing or taking turns.  When Ashley was included in a typical 1st grade classroom, I asked the teacher if I could come in and read a book “Have You Filled Your Bucket Today”  The book is great, it encourages positive behavior by using the concept of an invisible bucket to show children how easy and rewarding it is to perform acts of kindness, appreciation, and love and how doing those things “fills buckets.” It also helps to explain that “bucket dipping” is a negative behavior and explains that it’s possible to fill or dip into our own buckets.
I wanted to read the book and talk to these first graders about Ashley and “explain her” a little bit. I remember the administration was a little apprehensive about what I was proposing  but my thought was that these kids can see her stimming at her desk everyday! (Stimming is short for self stimulatory behaviors like flapping hands, rocking, repeating words as a means of self regulation.) They also see her getting upset over things they don’t understand. Do you honestly think they don’t notice she is different?  What is wrong with me explaining her behavior to them?  I knew my audience, 1st graders. Keep the language basic and the message simple. The administration eventually agreed and an administrator sat in the classroom that day as I read the book and talked to the class. I chose to go in at a time when Ashley was out of the classroom working with a specialist in order to try and preserve her integrity with the other kids.
I read the book and we talked about kindness and things that made us feel good. I explained to her classmates all of the things that Ashley could do really well; rollerblading, iceskating, spelling and memorizing things. I asked them to tell me what they were good at and what was hard for them. One boy said that he was good at math but spelling was hard for him and one little girl said she was trying to learn to ice skate but it was really hard and she needed lessons. After listening to all of them I explained that even with all of the things Ashley was good at, making friends was something that was really hard for her.
I asked the class if they had seen her spinning her pencil and demonstrated what that stimulatory behavior looked like. They nodded yes. I asked them if they had seen her get upset over small things and again, they nodded yes. One girl volunteered that Ashley had thrown her pencil case that very morning because she couldnt find her purple eraser. Ugh…exactly.  They get it.
I took a deep breath and went on to explain that if being friends with Ashley made them uncomfortable that was ok.  I think kids have a right to choose who they want to be friends with, but I explained that I did expect that they would ALWAYS BE KIND and NEVER be mean to her. You don’t need to be friends but you should never dip into a bucket, only fill them!  We ended with some high fives and I thanked them for being good kids and asked them to promise me that they would work hard at filling each other’s buckets.
I think all of us could benefit from the same lesson.

2 thoughts on “#FillingBuckets”

  1. Great job Shiela! One can tell you have been researching Autism over these many years – and have done one terrific job at it. Also, what a great idea to go into the classrooms and talk to the students at this young age;
    the earlier the better; their little minds are like sponges! I like that you showed them some things Ashley is very good at (ice skating, roller blading, memorizing, etc) and some things she’s not good at — just like they are good at one thing but not another thing; showing these little ones we are all the same; just a little bit different. Every one is good at some things and not the other!!! And love that they got the message; and trust me, they will remember it. Great start on putting this out there! ❤️😜

  2. Yes!! as a kindergarten teacher I can tell you children as young as 5 DO take in so much that is happening around them. They’re easily influenced and what a PERFECT way to set them on the right path. You’ve inspired me to do much more than I’ve done in the past. As Kathy said, I love that you pointed out that no matter what the kids notice that they themselves may NOT do , they need to realize there are great things that little child CAN do that they don’t see. This gives kids a chance to stop, think and hopefully connect with that child. Pointing out that we all have difficulty with some things is also very powerful. I may have to have you in my class as a guest reader/speaker. 🙂 You’d be awesome !

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