You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned… a lesson for parents and teachers.


      When I first had kids, I thought I knew what to do.  I had been a teacher for a few years. I was good at managing them. My class was wild but everyone went home each day with smiles, bumps, and few bruises. I took care of my nieces and nephews. We played games. We had fun. I had parenting down… or so I thought.  When Addison and Mckade were born I had to quickly unlearn all of the things I thought I already knew.

Addison began climbing at an early age. She would climb anything. If there wasn’t something to climb she would build these WIle E Coyote towers that would creak, teeter, totter and defy physics so she could climb even higher. It scared us to death. After consulting google we learned that kids with autism sometimes seek out high places. We learned she could climb out of her crib at an early age. We would gasp when we saw she could make it to the top of the refrigerator when she wanted a snack. We just about passed out the first time we realized she climbed the iron beams on our patio and made it to the roof of the house. She would sit there and watch the world go by. Maybe it was quiet and calm up there to Addison. We wouldn’t know at the time she couldn’t really tell us what she liked about being up there.  All we knew THEN was that we have to get her down before she fell to her doom. We also had to get her down because if someone saw her they would call DHS and have her taken away from us.

We did what any “good” parent would do. WE SCREAMED!!!! “OH God! Addison get down off that roof. You are going to break your neck! Have you lost your mind? Get down before they come and take you away from us! GET DOWN NOW BEFORE I….”

You get the picture. We were doing what we thought was right. What we had learned. Leah and I were brought up in houses where we could be redirected verbally. Meaning that our parents could tell us to do things and we would do it
Don’t touch that!

Stop jumping on that.

Quit pulling your sister’s hair!

Don’t put that in your mouth!

Those were all things that you could tell kids who could be redirected verbally. This was how our parents taught us. This is how Leah and I thought we could redirect Addison and eventually McKade! We were so wrong. We had to take a page from Yoda. We had to unlearn what we had learned.

Addison and McKade weren’t like typical kids. They couldn’t be redirected the same way Leah and I were when we were little. To get Addison down off that roof, we had to shorten our words. Addison feet on the ground. She didn’t hear anything in our verbal panicked rant we vomited in the air. We had to learn to shorten our words if we used words at all with Addison and McKade. Instructing Addison, McKade, and kids like them have taught us that we need to spend more time showing than talking. Say just what you mean. Leave out the rest. Then wait. If they respond, GREAT! If they don’t perhaps you need to repeat the instructions, model them and or guide them through a task. (Works well for kids without autism too)

We sometimes teach the best way we know how. We teach or direct the way someone taught us.  Yoda said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” I think as teachers and parents we have to take Yoda’s advice and go one step further. We have to unlearn and be willing to learn again. My two kids with autism forced my wife and I to learn and teach in a whole new way. The kids you encounter in your classrooms need you to unlearn what you have learned and be willing to learn again.  They will be different and require you to think different!

Did my shortened verbal redirect work with Addison? Eventually. Until it did, I climbed the roof and carried her down many times. #grateful
May the Force Be With You,

Toby @jedipadmaster


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