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by Betty Adkins, MS

“We do not learn by experience, we learn by reflecting on experience.” — John Dewey

I remember well the first time I had a student have a complete meltdown while out in the community. I was teaching young children with autism and intellectual disabilities at the time, and we went out in the community every week. It was in December, and we went to a nearby mall to listen to holiday music. 

J had been struggling with self-regulation for a few weeks, and this trip was way out of  her comfort zone. I missed the signs that a meltdown was coming. Boom! There it was! J ran from the group, hiding under the rack in a dress shop, screaming and crying the entire time. I sat on the floor next to her attempting to remain calm myself!  The other adult with our group took the rest of the students back to the bus. 

As you can imagine, the shop manager was not happy with me! She wanted J out of her shop, ASAP! She called mall security, and soon I was talking with a strong police officer. I was able to convince J to come out and sit next to me, but she refused to stand up and walk out of the store. I finally got her up, and when the police officer tried to take her other arm she kicked him. That changed his mind quickly! He ended up just carrying her out of the store. My glasses were thrown across the mall in the process, and a necklace was torn from my neck. I still do not remember how we actually got her back on the bus safely.

Later that day, I was sitting in my principal’s office, explaining what had happened. I will never forget her very wise words. “What would you do differently next time?” she asked. No judgment. No blame. She just helped to start the process of reflection. 

In taking the time to reflect, I realized that in my eagerness to take the class on an enjoyable trip, I did not consider J’s recent challenges with self-regulation. Given those challenges, a loosely structured community outing like listening to holiday music was not the best choice for that day. J enjoyed walking around a nearby park, and she enjoyed short trips to the grocery store when she had a specific role and a very short picture shopping list. Those activities would have been better choices for a successful outing. 

The tricky part of self-reflection is not falling into the judgment trap. I learned so much from that experience! It stands out as a pivotal moment for me. It would have been easy to blame J, without looking at my responsibility as her teacher/guide. J did not have the ability at that time to self-advocate and needed adults to read her behavior and to provide the needed supports for success. 

I have always been grateful for that “Aha!” moment.

Thank you, Principal Flynn. 


Do you need help with  your child? Betty Adkins is a certified Relationship Development Intervention (RDI™) consultant, and she can help you support your child. Contact her at [email protected].

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