If every person was the same, would we have the gift of learning? Do you recognize the importance of recognizing people no matter what their abilities?
I hope we can draw attention to all of the wonderful things that make kids and adults with Autism special. The greatest gift we can give is helping people to understand others. If you have someone in your life that has Autism you know that the symbol of the puzzle piece is fitting. It is a disability that has no actual cause yet it is on the rise and currently touches 1 out of 150 children.
The importance of tolerance, education, and acceptance could not be more relevant on the path that we are on. It is imperative that we begin to understand people with Autism. I have had the pleasure of working with students with Autism. I thought it would be best to tell you how one little boy opened my heart and changed my world.
I was a sophomore at the University of Florida. It was the time in my academic career that I was going to select my major. I was still undecided between business and education. I was a sister of Alpha Xi Delta sorority and our national campaign at the time was Choose Children. It is now Autism Awareness.
I decided to join the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization to help a child. I received a little sister who taught me a lot about myself. She also had a lot of room for growth and improvement. She was the reason I chose teaching. I realized that my abilities were best utilized through education. I had a gift to communicate and help people who had seemed unreachable. I am actually quite dyslexic and have ADD. I just figured out ways to compensate for my disabilities and turn them into abilities.
Once I determined that teaching was going to be my occupation, I began to read about employment opportunities. I soon discovered that to be marketable, a Special Education designation was necessary. I applied for a prestigious grant program to have the opportunity to work at a camp with children with disabilities while taking graduate level coursework. I am a firm believer in pairing academic work with real world experience, I wanted to understand their abilities. I was accepted and soon began my first real interaction with children with Autism.
I was scared at first because being responsible for a child's education and care is a huge responsibility. One that I took very seriously. I was paired with a young man who we will call Joe.
Joe was non verbal and easily flustered. He was a known runner, hitter, and biter. He was also cognitively on a kindergarten level yet he was supposed to be functioning at a fourth grade level. It was my job to keep Joe safe and teach him something. I looked at my mentor and I said, "Could you be more specific?" I just wasn't sure what "something" was.
I decided I was going to put an end to the running, biting, and aggressive behavior. I decided there must be a trigger that caused those reactions and the easiest trigger was not being able to communicate in a way that others understood.
I often ask parents, peers, and anyone who doubts the power of communication to take away their ability for the day or even an hour. If you close your eyes and think of just your morning and all of the times that you used language to get what you wanted you would be amazed. If you think about how hard it would be to live your life in silence, then you would understand my student Joe's plight.
I spent the entire summer teaching Joe how to express yes and no. Then I taught him to express himself without biting. I showed him patience and kindness and he only ran from me once. When I called his name he stopped and came back.
I received an "A". I earned the respect of my peers because I did something that other teachers hadn't. I let Joe teach me. Joe taught me to think outside of the box, to listen with more than my ears and to see things from his point of view. Joe changed the kind of teacher I would have been into a teacher that over the years gave children words, expressions, and courage.
You see, things that come easily to some do not come easily to people with Autism. The things you take for granted are a daily struggle for those who struggle with Autism. Yet the abilities they do have far outweigh the abilities they do not have. They see the world with rose glasses and they do not judge others. They can spend a long time exploring things. They love with their whole heart and they are not fazed by society. They love and live with all that they are.
I think of the puzzle piece that depicts Autism and to me it is society's perception of everyone's need to fit together to form one world. People with Autism deserve your respect and understanding and love.
I spent the entire summer with Joe. My every waking thought was how was I going to change Joe so he fit in. Then one night I woke up and thought, the world needs to change and understand that Joe does fit in because he is who he is and he is special. He is special not because of his disability but because of his abilities. If "we" spent less time judging and more time understanding, all the pieces would fall together.
More for Autism Awareness Month