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Pop Quiz: Autism Speaks

Around my school over the past week posters that contain jigsaw puzzle pieces have gone up on the walls.  My favorite one is a tree and the puzzle pieces are the leaves.  The words on it say that April is Autism awareness month and today April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day.  The students in the self-contained autism class* have been making these posters with the help of their peer buddies to raise awareness for their condition.

Autism is a condition where there is a broad range of characteristics.  It can range in severity from the very mild where there is virtually no impact on a person’s ability to be a productive member of society to the very severe where a person cannot function on their own.  This is why the newest name for the condition is autism spectrum disorder. One of the older names that was just replaced in the DSM is Asperger syndrome, because god knows when you have a condition that is characterized by an inability to read social cues what you really need is it to be called “ass-burgers”.

I am a person on the mild end of the autistic spectrum.  You might not notice until you talked with me for a while.  I am not neurotypical,  I do not have a disease. I have a condition with characteristics.  I do not want to be cured, I am not ill.  I like how my brain works  – for the most part.

I get so angry when I hear people say they are looking for a “Cure for Autism”.  To hell with you and your cure.   Treatment to bring autistic people into the world so that they can interact and function in society, I am all for.  Early intervention to improve language and social skills, I am all for.  Relief from the anxiety that for me is a constant part of my life, I am all for.  Relief from hypersensitivity of sound and light, I am all for.  But I am not broken. My brain works different from yours, but it works just fine.

One of the catch phrases for Autism awareness is “Autism Speaks”, and I think that as educators it is important to learn about the spectrum of characteristics that are presented by people with autism, because as time goes on we are seeing how prevalent it is.  So the question today is a little different.  If you are a person on the autistic spectrum what characteristics do you have? What would you tell your teachers if you could?  If you are an educator what experiences have you had with people on the spectrum?  Have you made mistakes?  What did you learn from them?

I’ll start us out with the story about one of the first mistakes I made when I started working with students with autism who were mainstreamed into regular education classes.  When I began teaching I liked to find efficient ways to do mundane time-sucking tasks, like changing assigned seats.  So I developed a “game”.  In the time between classes I would place a student’s papers that I was handing back to them on their new seat.  I had the papers stacked so I could just go up and down the rows and it would only take a few minutes. As the students arrived they would scurry around to find their seat.  This involved a good bit of noise and a lot of running around.  It was a few minutes of chaos.  Into this walked a boy who I’ll call Al.  The lights, the sound, the movement, the change all compounded to overwhelm him.  When all was said and done Al found his seat and broke down crying.  A “fun” activity for the class was not fun for him.  After talking with him and a very knowledgeable special education teacher I figured out how to make this ok for Al.  All I had to do was tell him the day before that we are changing seats tomorrow and his seat will be the 3rd row 2nd seat.   This little heads up let him cope and also “win” the seat finding game.

*Self-contained classes are those where the students are not mainstreamed into the regular education classes for major subject areas like math, social studies, English, science and foreign languages.

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).

Featured image from Autism Speaks

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

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