Monday, April 20, 2009

April is Autism Awareness Month

 Anyone who has the privilege of establishing a friendship with a person with autism would probably tell you, it's one of the most rewarding feelings on the face of the planet. Breaking down barriers and figuring out the language encoding system or even just following the lead of an autistic student, sheds a little light on the neat little quirks...and issues that lie just underneath the surface.
This past year, we had a young man come to our school from a western state...which will remain unnamed--he was having a major breakdown in the middle of the hallway on the first day, trying to negotiate a locker and deal with the roar of the hallway first thing in the morning. Within moments, my friend Nancy...a special educator, and I were at his side. We knew.
But...the system had not been informed! This student was in a one-on-one situation in a resource room in his previous school! (They didn't know what to do with him!) But never mind that...we had to get him through those very first moments and set him on the road to coping. What a gem of a boy! Those first few weeks were exceedingly tough...with many meltdowns. But! This guy is brilliant! And now...he's in walking club, which means he walks the halls with other like-minded, bright students, conversing all the way, honestly! (And now? He'd talk the ear off a mule, I swear!) He skipped out of his classroom (He's my next door neighbor this year...fingers crossed that I get him next year.), springing up on his toes and yelling, "This is the best day of my life!" Of course, I was in the middle of a lesson...but I had to bite---so I said, "What happened?" And you know what...he got a 100 on a math test. Made my day too!
On my own sixth grade, I have a number of kids that are either identified as autistic, or fit neatly somewhere on the spectrum. I LOVE them! They are not islands, but meaningful participants in my classroom. If I don't know something (which...sorry to say is frequent!), they pipe up right away---like Dan, my black tar man...who could tell me immediately about the components of colprovia and the differences between a variety of types. Or my helicopter/war plane officianado...and now my endangered species expert that sits in the third row. All info, all the time. But the best of it all--behind that obsession lies a warm body, a brilliant mind...and a kid who just loves to have someone to talk to. Yup, different IS where it's at. In the middle of a group of sixth graders worried about where they fit in, it's just kind of nice to have a student or two, (well actually four)...who fits in alright--but the puzzle has to be built around him/her first!

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