Inclusion In Action: How My Son’s Classmates Responded When They Learned About Autism

 

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After my son was first identified as Autistic* I constantly worried about how the world would treat him. Those worries escalated when he was at school interacting with classmates and under the care of others, but with the help of his teachers we found a way to help foster a positive, supportive community for him. It was accomplished by talking to his classmates about Autism, and the results have been more effective and encouraging than I ever hoped.

My son is outgoing, energetic, and has a knack for improv comedy. His big brother is his best friend and his favorite things are Minecraft, sea lions, and Lego. He is also Autistic with some social, sensory, attention and impulse control issues. As “Twice-Exceptional” it seems at times that he is caught in between the typical and special-needs world, so sometimes he struggles to find a sense of belonging and acceptance. As he grew older those struggles became greater, and we hoped to find a way to help.

Some of you may be wondering why I would want my son’s classmates to know about his Autism label. Wouldn’t that complicate things because he would seem MORE different? I believe honest dialogue about special-needs is crucial to acceptance, and that children can be surprisingly open-minded about diversity and uniqueness. If you tell them, “Different is cool,” they will believe you. The trick is to explain those differences in a matter-of-fact and positive way, before they can be affected by the prejudices of the world. (It also helps if you do it in a voice like Matt Smith’s Doctor when he said, “Bowties are COOL!” And yeah, I totally made this meme.)

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I once read these words, “If you’re the parent of a child with AS & worried about what will happen if other students find out, here’s a thoughtthey already know. They know they have a classmate who has different and difficult behaviors. But they don’t realize the reasons. And the reasons they imagine are much worse than the facts.” I felt that my son’s classmates were more likely to be kind if they understood more about him. As the article stated, “… children are never too young to learn that…we need to treat each other with patience, kindness and understanding.” I was also inspired by a presentation given by the Executive Director of our local Autism Society chapter, who had talked with her own son’s classmates when he was in school. She felt that it was important to share with classmates about strengths first, then weaknesses, and then involve the other children by stating ways that they could help.

Taking that into account, my son and I first shared with his classmates about Autism when he was in 1st grade. We did it again when he was in 2nd, both times in conjunction with his Star Student presentation. Any time I discuss Autism it is with his permission and his input, and he is proud to talk about his “special brain.” We wanted to show that Autism was just one of the many things that makes him interesting (if you want to read the script I used you can click here, The Star: Telling classmates about Autism). We made sure to point out that even though my son was a little bit different that was okay, because he also was just the same as the other students. Both times I contacted the teacher first to gain permission, and gave her a copy of what would be said so that she could be prepared to answer any questions the students may have later.  Continue reading

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In His Own World (and that’s right where he needs to be sometimes)

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All the kids on my cul-de-sac are playing outside… all the kids except my youngest, who has Autism. At this point I know better than to make him go outside. In a bit I will, but he just got home from school and I know he needs time to decompress. Sometimes it breaks my heart to see him be so isolated, hear the joyful shrieks coming from outside while I watch him playing alone in the den, but I know that is about ME. At the moment it doesn’t bother HIM. I remind myself that this alone time is actually what he needs after a long, taxing day at school where he had to interact with people, navigate rules, struggle to pay attention, and constantly regulate his behavior. The problem is that what usually happens is in an hour or so after he has recharged his batteries he will suddenly decide he wants to go outside and see the other kids. Sadly, that tends to be when the other kids decide they are done and ready to go inside. And then he cries and cries, and I cry with him. So today, to avoid the inevitable tears, I will try to encourage him to go outside and play after allowing 30 minutes of down time. I just hope that the other kids are still out there.

It is so painful sometimes, watching my son interact, attempt to interact, or refuse to interact, with those other children. It’s not that I don’t love or accept him for who he is, but it hurts when I see him struggle. He has a dynamic personality (VERY not boring!), is a natural performer, and can be quite engaging. I want others to see that~ despite the fact that he is still working at learning social skills, handling frustration, and understanding that some bodily function jokes are NOT appropriate.  EVER.  Continue reading