April Should be Autism ACTION Month

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April may be “Autism Awareness Month,” but mere awareness is not enough. We need to move beyond awareness to acceptance, and turn acceptance into ACTION.

Why? The world is aware of autism, yet autistic people face microaggressions or even flat-out discrimination every day. Autistic adults are aware that many who claim to speak for the Autism community don’t actually ask Autistic people for their opinion. We are aware that many businesses refuse to give us a chance at meaningful employment. Parents are aware of the lack of sufficient resources to help their children thrive in schools. Children know what it feels like to be bullied and isolated.

It is not enough to be aware one month of the year, and yet sometimes it seems like the only people really paying attention to Autism Awareness Month are people in the community. The rest seem to just want to donate money to an Autism charity to ease their conscience.

Want to REALLY make a difference? ACCEPT. ACCOMMODATE. APPRECIATE. ADVOCATE. Take ACTION. Keep reading for some suggestions of ways that you can help improve the lives of Autistic people. We don’t need your pity, but we would appreciate your support.  Continue reading

Autism & Acceptance as Explained by an Autistic 10-year-old

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My 10-year-old son decided to create a short video describing his experience as an autistic person. After all, who better to explain autism than someone who is actually autistic? The video is a simple, honest, and even funny description that is less than two minutes and was created using the program Scratch. Yes, he did all the writing, drawing, and coding by himself.

(audio transcript at the bottom of the post)

Alex loves to draw, as he stated in the video. For your reading amusement, here is a comic that was included in the video:

My comic

I am incredibly proud of my son, not only for his creativity but also for his bravery and willingness to share his story. In the video he talks about his strengths and is also honest about some of the struggles that he has experienced. He even explains a bit about sensory issues (as seen above) and stimming. His insights at the end about “the secret to a good life” brought me to tears.

Continue reading

Dancer Earns Silver at Special Olympics World Games, Returns to Hero’s Welcome at School

Taylor

Taylor Carpenter is an eight-year-old who recently competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, earning a silver medal in dance. When she and her sister returned to school they were welcomed home with school-wide celebration and victory lap.

Taylor’s father, Michael, posted the video to Facebook, saying, “This is inclusion. This is community. This is love.”

“Words cannot express the feeling the love, the joy, the pride, the friendship displayed and represented in the video that represents part of Taylor’s school welcoming her home…celebrating her accomplishment, her journey, and most importantly her. To all involved in her life thank you everything you pour into her she pours into her life and into her dance.” Continue reading

Autism, ADD, & Hyperfocus

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“Hyperfocus” is the ability to zero in on an activity with ultra-intense concentration, often for hours at a time. Neurodivergent individuals often experience this, for example people with autism or ADD. It is a common misconception that people with ADD are simply unfocused. During a period of hyperfocus the world can fade away and individuals may experience greater concentration, clarity, and productivity on their task. Autistic individuals have described similar experiences, especially when the task is related to one of their areas of expertise. I can’t speak to what it is like for everyone, but I can at least describe how hyperfocus manifests for my son and me.

My son is *autistic and vacillates between low-focus and hyperfocus, and I share all this with his permission. He has a hard time concentrating if there are any distractions (like noises, smells, or something else he finds interesting going on around him), if he is tired or unwell, or sometimes simply if he isn’t interested in the task at hand. Then there are other times that he can zone in and gets so lost in what he is doing that he won’t even hear someone if they call his name. When he was a toddler the way I confirmed my suspicions about his unique neurology was by sneaking up behind him and banging a pot while he played. He didn’t even flinch, didn’t even process the sound. This tendency towards hyperfocus and tuning out auditory stimuli can both help him in school and present challenges. It helps him because he can work quickly, efficiently, and often with a greater depth of creativity. Problems occur when he is so focused that he doesn’t notice what is going on in the classroom around him and misses instructions. His teachers are aware of this, however, and try to accommodate accordingly.

When my son was about eight years old he told me that often after he came out of a period of intense concentration at school the world “didn’t feel real”. He said he would have to get up and move around so he could feel like himself again and feel right in his own body. It seems that he was disoriented and also needed to regain his sense of proprioception. When my son told me about those experiences I was astounded that he was able to articulate himself so well about such an abstract feeling. Thankfully there are accommodations in his IEP for pacing and stimming, and he is given the freedom to move around the back of the classroom when necessary.

(*If any of you cringed at the term “autistic” I would encourage you to research the “Identity-First” movement or the neurodiversity paradigm. The concept behind Identity-First language is described as such by the page “Identity-First Autistic”: “As autistic people, we see our neurology as an integral part of who we are – not a separate or negative add-on.” Saying “autistic” or using similar terminology acknowledges the effects that unique neurological wiring or disability has in shaping a person’s identity and the way they interact with the world. Autistic or neurodivergent people hope for acceptance and accommodation.)

Then there’s me. I am a 40-something woman who has known for decades that I am neurodivergent, but it took years to get a proper diagnosis (mis-diagnoses are common for women). When I was in my 30’s I was finally identified as ADD, even though in my 20’s a psychologist insisted I wasn’t. Then about a year ago a therapist affirmed my suspicions that I also displayed characteristics of being on the autism spectrum.

For me hyperfocus means that it is all about The Thing. The Thing is whatever I find most interesting or important at the time. All I can think about is The Thing. All I want to do is The Thing. I get irritated at anything that keeps me from doing The Thing, even if that something else is actually important.  Continue reading

Letters to Mr. Goss

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This is the story of how scores of students rallied in support of their former High School teacher, who was also very ill, because we wanted him to know much we appreciated the positive influence he had on our lives. Turns out we did so just in time.

I had the privilege of being in Mr. Goss’s class during my Senior year of High School. He was one of those amazing teachers that got students excited about learning and about life, despite his occasionally crusty exterior. We appreciated his energy and passion and his unique view of the world. We loved the fact that he could teach with equal levels of earnestness the symbolism of not only Dante’s Inferno but also Dr. Seuss. In his class we examined the literary devices used in the book of Job, and had a spirited debate on how to define “Quality” after reading the book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” He encouraged us to think deeply and differently, and despite his tendency to crack some truly corny jokes he was a gifted storyteller.

Mr. Goss left a lasting positive impression on me, despite the fact that my constant disorganization frustrated him. Almost twenty years later, when I first started trying to write again, he was on my mind a lot. I wanted to reach out to him to say thank you and tell him that he had a huge influence on my writing style and self-confidence. Around that time a number of former classmates began to reconnect on social media and the name Mr. Goss came up often. He was described as, “My favorite teacher,” “The best thing to happen to English,” “My inspiration for becoming a writer/teacher,” and “The only person I felt I could talk to.” Many students stated that he made a huge difference in their lives, and that they still remembered the things he taught them. One student wrote, “He was just one of the coolest teachers I think I’ve ever known. Even when it wasn’t about English or Literature, he was teaching about so many things.” Another said, “We LOVED Mr. Goss!! Who else could discuss how important it is to have your glass of milk so cold it almost hurts? Or read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Are You My Mother?’ to you and put it on your senior English exam?”

All those kind words were said on social media, however. I wondered if Mr. Goss himself knew how important he was to all of us.

I had heard whispers that our former teacher may be ill. Continue reading