Acting awesome with autism!


Of all of the strategies I teach to teachers, HALT is the one I receive the most positive feedback about.

H.A.L.T. Stands for:

Hungry Angry Lonely Tired

This is the best piece of advice I have ever dug up and I constantly get comments on it.

It’s from the twelve step Alcoholics Anonymous acronym pile.

It works like this...

Whenever you have a child to deal with who is upset, unhappy, unfocused and struggling, break the cycle by putting space between their distresses and trying to solve the problem...

Ask them...

Ask them...

"Are you Hungry?"; If the answer is "Yes", find them a sandwich. Then deal with the problem.

"Are you Angry?", If the answer is "Yes", find a space for them to have their own little mental battle

and when they calm down. Then deal with the problem.

"Are you Lonely?", If the answer is "Yes", find a nice kid who will talk to anyone to help them fit in.

Then deal with the problem.

"Are you Tired?", If the answer is "Yes", find them a place to nap. Then deal with the problem.

These delaying tactics are essential as they take the steam out of the students’ emotional outburst

and give you a chance to slow down your thought patterns and come up with a considered reply.

I have found that with difficult behaviour you have to waste time to make time! The more that you

avoid dealing with bad behaviour the bigger it becomes. However, a bit of time “wasted” solving a behaviour issue now will bear brilliant fruit in the future and you will reclaim the time back a

hundred fold.

So accept your responsibility and ask the student to help you solve this problem.

There is also a second tier to this approach that I will add as of today based on the information given by the awesome Asperger’s Expert, Danny Raede.

The Asperger’s Expert website is a brilliant resource for anyone dealing with high functioning Autistic students.

Anyone who teaches mainstream classrooms needs this advice because high functioning Autistic

students are becoming increasingly prevalent.

I have a great interest in this as we have a lot of autism in our family and how teachers respond to

Autistic behaviours greatly effects the child’s behaviours and the teacher’s enjoyment of teaching.

One of my biggest concerns is the number of students who are not diagnosed Autistic but definitely

display Autistic traits. Much of the time teachers try to alert parents of the student’s problems but

are often rebuffed by parents fearing that their child will become labelled or defined by their


Much too often this is fuelled by pure parental denial.

Whatever the reason for this it is devastating for the student and demanding for the teachers.

I believe that there is a little autism in all of us and that autism is only a disability when it becomes

dysfunctional, deviant and distressing.

Too often autism becomes dysfunctional, deviant and distressing as a result of parents denying their

teachers access to the services that are available to help autistic students develop the skills,

routines, habits and knowledge to function well.

Research show us that the earlier a child is diagnosed the more like is it that the child will learn the

skills and insights needed for them to operate successfully.

Here is Danny explaining a simple insight into dealing with high functioning autism that all teachers, parents and students need to know.

For me I realised that I need to add to H.A.L.T. when it came to autistic students. I call this one

T.E.N.S.E. which stands for Tongue, Eyes, Nose, Skin, Ears.

Meaning if a student seems tense and is not functioning, appears upset, acts distracted or gives the

impression that they are distressed, simply check to see if there are tastes, sights, smells, surfaces or

sounds that the student may be sensitive to that may will be causing their negative behavioural


Just turning off a light, or closing a door, removing a strongly scented air freshener, turning down the

volume on a song or clip or turning off a whirring fan can have huge effect on an autistic child’s

demeanour and transform them from a problem into a functioning student.

As nearly all autistic students have anxiety issues caused by having to cope in a world that constantly overstimulates their senses, this is a really important insight to have.

When my fabulous autistic grandson Atticus first made his way to school we tried to do everything

we could to make sure his teachers were aware of the issues that he faced.

He is now 13 years old, taller than me and functions extremely well in a great high school nearby and is a cheerful (as much as any 13 year old), lively young man who I am extremely proud of.

To help teachers who worked with him I wrote a simple letter to his school and his teachers in the

hope that the insights and the video clips would help them deal with Atticus’s, and any other autistic

students, little quirks and issues.

Here is the letter I wrote when he was five…

If God in her infinite wisdom has decided to bless you with a child who is touched if only slightly by autism you’ll know that it is one of the greatest learning opportunities you’ll ever have to see the

world with new eyes.

I know this because our family has been blessed with Atticus Bond for the last five years. Atticus is

our first born grandchild and is just on the Autistic Disorder Spectrum. In technical terms he is

labelled PDD-NOS which stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified.

The trouble is that Atticus has PDD-NOS with a savant twist... usually called the “Rainman” problem.

You see he didn’t start talking until he was three years old but we were pretty sure he was reading

before then!

Since he has started talking Atticus has revealed himself truly gifted at accumulating knowledge. He

already knows

 How to read (he tested out at RA 11 years last week)

 He knows all of his numbers (millions and beyond) and can add, subtract, multiply and


 He knows every country in the world, their capital cities and their flags

 He knows the parts of his and your body and their anatomical names

 He knows all of the planets and their moons

 He knows all of the periodic table, numbers and atomic weights included and

 He has learned the most immaculate set of manners you will ever meet, thank you very


Atticus has pretty much instant recall on all of this but sometimes says “I don’t know...” just so he

can put ten seconds in between the questions and the answer.

The trouble with all of this knowledge is that it wrapped in a cute five year old’s body. With all of the normal five year old issues parked alongside. His speech is very clear BUT he has a w/l substitution issue which we wuv. He’s not the best fine motor skilled child you’ll ever meet and he can (like many kids with autism’s blessing) throw a pretty impressive tantrum. He doesn’t make friends at school easily because other kids his age don’t know the stuff he knows and he’s not sports interested.

He will also reprogram your mobile phone to Chinese characters in a twinkling of an eye, does

amazing things to your computer that only experts can undo and loves nothing more than reading

the manual to your CD player while listening to 50 Nursery Rhyme Hits.

I’m pretty sure that one day we are going to find $1million in one of our bank accounts because

Atticus found it somewhere on the internet.

His best friend is his grandmother Katie.

Despite all of these extreme talents Atticus finds school a challenge. He doesn’t fit in with

educational norms and, God bless him, has no understanding at all of just how absolutely amazing

he is.

So here are some recommendations that you might like to use if you have the pleasure of an Atticus

Bond in your class.


1. When teaching ASD students, or any disability for that matter, acknowledge that their

parents may be the best living experts on their child’s condition. TALK TO THEM NOT AT


2. TALK TO THE CHILD! Even if they seem disinterested. While kids can’t sometimes explain the

problems that beset them they are much easier to deal with when you have tried to

develop a relationship with them.

3. Include as many people as possible in finding solutions to issues that arise. Parents,

grandparents, the music teacher and the science teacher and anyone else that the child may

have a positive relationship with. A pinch of insight may have a tonne of impact.

4. Do not expect answers that fit the normal school practices. The best teacher’s aide may be

a retired grandmother with a teaching degree and teacher’s aide certificate and who is

working on her PhD at the university down the road or a straight out of high school kid with

a great personality, great computer skills and a curiosity that drives most sane adults loony.

5. Break the rules. 5 year old kids who already know their periodic tables are beyond rules like

five year olds must read level 2 books.

6. Look for things that work. Every one of these kids has interests that really switch them on.

Match your instructions to their interest, then stretch them into new areas and then

celebrate when you get there.

7. Put the right people in the right place. A bright young teacher’s aide with a licence to

stretch kids might be a better fit than the well-intended but disconnected aide who always

works in Year 1.

8. See the process as problem solving not winning an argument. It doesn’t matter who has

the most degrees or who is in charge, the solution is essential no matter who came up with

the idea.

9. Be aware of cultural differences. One man’s Autism may be another woman’s way of life. To

Autistic people they are the norm... the rest of us are the strange ones. Apparently Autism is

harder to detect in Japan where the culture is much less extroverted than in the west.

10. If all else fails use technology... not all autistic kids are technologically savvy but computers

and the like seem to have a patience that attracts many autistic kids.

A brief course in autistic awareness via YouTube clips.

Draw anything that comes into your mind.

This clip explains the problems that grow from not communicating specifically with Autistic kids...

charming but scary!

The human camera

This is an astounding insight into the world of the autistic savant, Stephen Wiltshire the living


Autism Angel

Carly Flieshman’s story is challenging as it is inspiring. Please note the parent persistence in this

process. Not all parents of Autistic kids are this determined or articulate.

Carly and her father have written a great book called Carly’s Voice. And regular updates on her life, its trials and many tribulations can be found online.

Carly as a talk show host

The Autistic Basketballer

This is a perfect example of how autistic kids can fly under the radar if you don’t know what you are looking at.

Cam Can

Here’s a local solution that can’t help but make you smile.

Clay Marzo

Clay is a surfer who looks like a god but is Autistic on the Asperger’s end of the spectrum. He no

longer surfs competitively.

Joshua Littman and his mother Sarah

This wonderful interaction between a gorgeous kid and his caring thoughtful mother.

If you have reached this far on the blog you probably have needed a couple of tissues to wipe away some tears and have been inspired to learn a little more about the child in every third class who is on the autistic spectrum.

Start with the Asperger’s Expert site and then look around. I am sure if you ask about the parents of

kids with autism in your school you will find one who is an expert in the field. See if you can get a

chance to talk to them because the parental insights are vital.

If you have difficulty with undiagnosed autistic students in your school please let me know. I am

keen to develop a mechanism to help schools convince parents in denial about their child’s problem that the best thing they can do for their child is to embrace them for who they are not for what they wished they would be.

Yours, Greg

To learn more incredible teaching and learning strategies like this, please join us at the Mindset Manoeuvre workshop on October 5th or on the beach in Bali for our Teachers Retreat in January.

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