One of the most difficult aspects of having a child with autism is seeing the pain he or she goes through in his or her interactions with other children. With difficulty managing emotions, children with autism typically have trouble developing social skills and often become victims of bullying. At Stanfield, we believe that knowledge is not just power but a building block for compassion and empathy. It is normal for both children and adults to be uncomfortable with the unknown, which is why we feel it is so important to teach our youth about autism and other developmental disabilities they may have never heard of. The following is the story of one mother who found the courage to face a classroom of eight-year-olds on her son’s behalf.
After her son Alex was bullied at school, his mother pondered the question, “how much do kids really know about autism?” With a little investigation, she realized that Alex’s classmates were completely in the dark about his disability. After developing a PowerPoint presentation and putting together some booklets, she went in front of his class to shed some light on the subject. The result was inspiring.
The children started by asking questions about whether autism could be caught and then proceeded to ask what it was and where it came from. Using a whiteboard, Alex’s mom answered their questions and explained autism by using examples familiar to the students.
Using the gaming devices Nintendo and PlayStation as examples, Alex’s mother explained that like game operating systems, some brains processed information differently than others. Most people had one type of brain while a few people, those with autism, were born with a different kind of brain. Like eye or hair color, it was something one was born with and was not good or bad, just different. She then explained that her son Alex had autism.
Alex’s mother realized from the questions that followed that the children had always known Alex was different, they simply never knew why. They had been afraid to inquire but were now comfortable enough to ask the questions they had been keeping inside:
“Is it because of autism that he wiggles and shakes?”
“Is it why he uses headsets?”
“Is that the reason he leaves the room sometimes?”
Alex’s mother explained that because Alex’s brain manages communication differently, he sometimes reacts differently. She also clarified Alex’s need to leave the room by explaining that sometimes Alex’s brain becomes overloaded with information and he needs to take a break to allow his brain time to process the information.
How did Alex feel about his mom outing him in front of class? He was consulted ahead of time and gave his approval.
Alex’s mother did not wish to single her son out in front of his classmates. She simply wanted Alex’s class to understand him better, and that they did.
© 2012 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.