What Do April Fools' Day and Autism Awareness Month Have in Common?
What do April Fools’ Day and Autism Awareness Month have in common?
If you guessed they are both in March you would be right.
Was that lame?
I don’t like April Fools’ Day!
On April 1, when I was in fourth grade, Mr. Martin asked my class “who knows what spontaneous combustion is?” 30 clueless ten year olds turned towards the projector hoping for a movie.
I’m pretty sure Mary Ellen McNutly knew the answer, but for once she was silent. Glancing in her direction I saw she had the newest Nancy Drew mystery in her lap. Mr. Martin pulled out a pack of matches, carefully extracted one match and fell to the floor.
That got our attention and we burst into laughter. As Mr. Martin writhed on the floor we laughed and hooted, waiting for him to sit up and shout “THAT students, is spontaneous combustion!”
But he didn’t.
As the laughter subsided we realized something was wrong. Mary Ellen ran to get the nurse. Poor Mr. Martin had a seizure while trying to teach his fourth grade class about spontaneous combustion – on April Fool’s Day.
Mr. Martin was okay and returned to school the next week and we finally learned what spontaneous combustion was, but I have often wondered if Mr. Martin’s collapse predisposed me to not like April Fools’ Day.
I don’t Laugh Out Loud when my Oreos are filled with toothpaste and exploding anything is not amusing.
Years after Mr. Martin’s collapse, I discovered many of my students with autism didn’t like April Fools’ Day either. Kids with autism tend to be very literal and jokes and pranks require a level of language sophistication that is not natural for them.
Autism Awareness Month on the other hand, was established in 1984. It would seem with 11 other months to choose from the founders might have chosen a month that didn’t begin with April Fools’ Day.
Here are some easy to implement tips and ideas to make April Fools’ Day more fun and less stressful for our autism students.
First and foremost is physical and emotional safety. Be sure all students, not just those with autism, understand if it hurts someone, it is not funny or a joke. Even if it is followed by “April Fool” it is not okay to be mean. “Your dog is dead – April Fool” is not humorous”.
The more kids with autism know about what is going to occur, the more they can cope and react appropriately.
- Place a visual reminder a few days before on your calendar. During Circle Time or Morning Meeting refer to it with excitement and practice a joke or two.
- Read an April Fools’ Day story. April Foolishness by Teresa Bateman is a cute story about two children trying to play an April Fool trick on grandpa. Grandpa isn’t falling for it, but Grandma has the last laugh when she tricks grandpa.
- If you are planning a party, be very careful with “joke food” such as pound cake fries (I have seen some very realistic looking ones) or carrots wrapped in Toostie Roll paper. Many children with Autism have food issues and can be confused and upset by these.
PRACTICE – PRACTICE – PRACTICE
Kids with autism tend to be rule followers. Once they learn a rule they expect everyone to follow it, all the time. Things are black and white, with no room for exception. When something will be different, it is important for us to prepare them as much as possible. I had a “Something is Different” sign I used in my classroom and on daily visual schedules.
- Play “I Know or April Fool”. Make a statement to the students and have them respond with either “I Know!” or “April Fool!”
You: There is snow on the carpet.
Student: April Fool!
You: My shirt is blue
Student: I know!
- If you are looking for a social skills resource that focuses on vocabulary and concept development resource, you can find “What is April Fools’ Day?” in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
You can use “What Is April Fools’ Day” one-on-one or in small groups for multiple practice sessions.