Changing The Way We Think: Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder is one of the most complex and misunderstood disorders that affect an extensive amount of individuals. ASD’s perplexity derives from its overarching “spectrum”, consisting of a wide range of various disorder qualities and conditions.
Learning how to consider such an intricate, yet common disorder can be daunting, as there is no single “how to” when it comes to interacting with autistic people. In fact — that statement within itself represents the imbalanced model in which we have been taught to think about these individuals: the title “autism” is what defines them solely. So we’ve become confined to seeing them as only autistic, limiting ourselves to appreciating their full potential as beings of this world.
During my first day in an inclusive preschool classroom, I could relate to this. I had no background or experience working with individuals with autism, let alone 3-year-olds with autism. Nervous and unsure, I could do nothing but sit back and observe in my first few minutes. I felt somewhat afraid of these tiny, adorable creatures. What if I did or said something wrong? What if I didn’t know how to communicate with them? Do you play with autistic children differently than you play with any other child? I was so afraid of my own unawareness that I felt distressed.
I anxiously observed the other teachers in the classroom, trying to take note of their behaviors. Before I could overthink it anymore, a quiet, curly-haired boy came up to me and held my hand. I froze for a second, unsure of what to do. He calmly walked me over to his “Thomas the Train” puzzle he had been working on, and handed me a piece. I sat down next to him and he said no words. I proceeded to timidly help him with the puzzle, my heart pounding the entire time. When it was completed, he clapped his hands and said “All done!” and walked away.
The smallest, simplest interaction — and I was transfixed. A rush of emotions came over me, and my heart felt full with a sense of serenity and ease. How could I have been so afraid? The pure innocence and wonder this little boy expressed brought me back down to Earth, and I knew I was right where I belonged.
Now, more than a year later, my entire perspective has changed. My awareness and experience with these students has changed everything I thought I knew. Along with my desire to work with these children every day, I feel a need to help others learn to understand them the way I have. We need to change the way we think about disorders like autism. We are too programmed into labeling those who are different, as those who are incapable.
It would serve us well to educate ourselves about individuals with special needs. Understand what aspects of their disorder make them different, and how we can help guide them. Understand the individuality of their disorder, and how amazingly unique that makes each and every one of them. And most of all, not labeling them as “them”.
Understand that autism does not define who they are. They are children, adolescents, and adults. They are explorers and investigators. They are smart and valued. They are brave and determined. They are endearing and joyful. They want to be respected. They wanted to be accepted. They want to be included. They are you. They are me. They are human beings.
April is Autism Awareness Month. To learn more about ASD and become involved with ASD visit: https://www.autismspeaks.org/