Unprofessional Umpires?

I zip up to the office at school:
“I was just wondering when they were going to start?” I ask the school secretary.
“I don't know hun but I sure hope it's soon for your sake.”

I pull a face, because at recess [translation = break time] my little guys are at sea. It has long been recognized that an autistic child often has the toughest time when the structure [translation = scaffolding] falls away and they are left to their own devices. When you observe an autistic child in a special ed classroom facility, you could be forgiven for wondering what on earth half of them are even doing there. However, one glance of the same children at recess, will confirm that any label attached to them is entirely accurate.

For my guys, recess used to mean cowering in a corner , head covered and bleating. For the other, the sensory overload manifested itself in aggression and violent outbursts. Neither child, nor their peers, fared well. Their behaviour also impacted the rest of the school. [translation = mainstream kids] Overall, this was not a happy situation for anyone.

To be fair, I'm not sure of their proper job title, but ‘umpire,’ [translation = referee] is a good enough approximation for me. It captures the essence of their job's responsibilities; they have to ensure that everyone plays fairly. [translation = Marquis of Queensbury's rules please] They don't constitute a professional body of working people, [translation = no recognized paper qualifications] and are generally referred to as Yard Duty ladies. But at the same time, I can see that this title doesn't really give full credit to their status in my eyes.

It's like waiting for the return of the cavalry. These volunteers accept a minimum wage, to spend an hour on the play ground and teach social skills, amongst many other things. It's also called 'lunch duty' here abouts, but it's not about eating, it's about children interacting with one another. There is a great deal of interaction between the children but a great deal of it is inappropriate. The children need the expert guidance of the facilitator, so that the children can learn to make better decisions, better choices, that a stick is not the best method of persuasion and that there are other more effective tools, such as words.

For those children that don't have a great many words, or lack the confidence to attempt to use them, the volunteers are their with on the spot help and encouragement. They are their to reinforce those first tentative attempts, to praise and reinforce, their trials and tribulations. Those children would be the special ed kids, often autistic kids. These women, are in the front line, or the line of fire, depending upon your bias.

They're there to mix them up, the typically developing children [translation = normal] and the special ed children [translation = those weirdo kids]. And there's no danger money on offer here. Before the volunteers materilize to take charge, the special ed kids are struggling and the mainstream kids are avoiding. But once the umpires [translation = facilitators] arrive, they ensure that they negotiate. They explain and guide them, each day, every week, throughout the year, until by the time the summer arrives a whole host of new friendships have been developed with their help, and a buffer zone of tolerance protects all the children.

Unprofessional umpires they may be, but for me, they’re more a group of unsung heros.

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My other job when I'm not cleaning or occupied with other duties is that of referee. [translation = mediator]. With junior daughter and senior son I am the interlocutor. I try and sort out the dispute but I might as well be invisible.

There is a school of thought that suggests you step back and let children sort out their own disputes. I think this is generally a European model. It has it's advantages. I think this would be a good model if you have first provided the children with the skills with which to resolve their dispute and allowed them the opportunity to practice. If you fail to cover these two preliminary steps then you are likely to end up with a bear pit. And that's with the normal [translation = typical] population of children. If one of the children is on the spectrum, namely atypical [translation = quirky] then things are out of balance. It's my job to redress this imbalance. It's an unfair fight, quite literally. One of the players is handicapped, in the gaming sense of the word, so I need to intervene and start teaching each of them how to go about sorting out spats [translation = fights.]

It's far easier to be the judge and give them my ruling. I'm comfortable with the role of dictatorship. It's also quicker and guaranteed to be fair, well most of the time anyway. I'm not so comfortable in the role of mediator and facilitator but that's probably because I haven't got the faintest idea what I should be doing. It's an act of faith, blind faith on my part that somehow or other I'll manage to guide them into making the right choices, to make compromises, to play fair. But in the long term, they will be better off if they can discover ways of solving problems, preferably by themselves. For right now, they can't do it on their own.

So that's what I'm trying to do at the moment. I'm sitting on the floor between the two of them trying to help them work it out. I am being a facilitator. I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm being a method actor; if I pretend that I know what I'm doing, then I'll look as if I know what I'm doing. I'm not sure who I'm trying to convince, them or me?

There's a horrid little whiny voice running through the inside of my head saying 'I can't do this, this is too difficult for me, I don't want to do this, I'd rather being doing anything else including the laundry.” I need a manual to explain to me what I should be doing and how. But even if I could find such a book,I wouldn't have time to read it. I have shelves of unread or speed read books, as evidence of my ignorance.

Why wasn't I born an American? This stuff is so easy for you lot. I see you in the park and the supermarket, with your lovely little children being patient and kind, sympathetic and understanding, loving and giving, selfless and enduring. What I'd give for just a teaspoonful of that? You make it look so easy and intuitive. I need to climb up this learning curve faster. I need a jump start, an immersion programme, a fast track.

How can I teach something to someone else that I can't even do myself? How can I teach something I don't know about to someone whose perspective is a mystery to me?
As I dither waiting for an expert to intervene, someone taps me on the arm, “you are not doing the good listening mummy! I have idea, we put dah timer on and take the turns.”

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