April is Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month and I’m thinking of wonderful children whom I’ve had the privilege of teaching. I’m thinking also of children in Peru, at San Manuelito and Senor de los Milagros, and the fact that many children with special needs in Peru are not even enrolled in school.
When I think about autism, I think about specific children, about (not their real names) Joey, who sang Disney songs in the most beautiful voice; I could have listened to him forever. And Marcia, who had huge tantrums, kicking and screaming on the floor, until she received a communication device and learned to quietly express whatever she needed to say. And Ronnie, who could read anything but didn’t understand what the words meant. Yet he did understand electronics. And Steven, who could tell you whatever you’d want to know about fish. And Jenny, who only wanted to have a friend.
I always felt that my students taught me how to teach them, that I was the student and they were the teachers. Here are a few more things that they taught me:
1. We’re all unique, especially perhaps those with learning differences. People with autism perceive the world differently than those of us who are neurotypical. They experience differences primarily in social interaction, communication, and behavior. But within those areas, and all the many other ways of being human, we’re each unique. All people deserve to be loved, accepted, and respected, just as they are. Only then can we help each other move to whoever we might become.
2. We don’t need words to think. We might think in pictures instead.
3. There are many ways of communicating. Talking is one. So are pictures, communication devices, sign language, and writing. And behavior. A child who can't talk might act out due to frustration. As we develop functional communication systems for children,we often see amazing changes in their behavior. It's important to listen to the words a child cannot speak.
4. Little things can be the most important. A key. A marble. Bubbles floating in the breeze. A song. A piece of string. And colors are beautiful, especially favorite colors. So sometimes are things that flash and spin. And likewise sometimes not.
5. Eye contact can be painful. It might not be possible to look at someone and talk at the same time.
(to be continued)