In just a little way, it touched minutes of my life. The little girl and the little boy were seated in the row in front of me. On an airplane, it’s better to have kids in front of you, because behind you, they’ll sometimes kick the seat.
Dad was with them. Mom across the aisle. Even as we were being seated, I could tell something was different. The little boy with the angel face was shouting and thrashing. Dad was calm. Mom was calm.
The lady in the middle seat next to me was annoyed and said; in what I’m sure she thought was a discreet whisper, “People just spoil their children these days.”
Mom stood up to hand something to Dad and to speak something to the screaming little angel boy in a steady, caring voice. That’s when I saw her T-shirt. It read: “My child has Autism. Questions are welcome. Parenting advice is not.”
Autism has likely touched your life in some way. It’s more common than most know. Maybe it was the little girl who lived on your block or your son’s classmate. Perhaps you are the parent or grandparent of a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or ASD. Perhaps you are a teacher or a special ed teacher’s assistant who has struggled to reach inside these minds.
The reality is that autism affects one in every 110 children. One in 70 boys.
April is Autism Awareness Month and educators are calling on all of us to educate ourselves and others. Families need us to advocate for resources to help support children diagnosed with ASD.
Starting this month, the National Education Association (NEA) is offering a free, online workshop on autism awareness that will bring the information right to your home with just a few keystrokes. In addition to explaining autism, the workshop will describe strategies teachers and parents can use to help students with ASD succeed in school.
There are a number of things that teachers and support staff can do in the classroom and parents can reinforce at home.
Students with ASD have trouble understanding and using language. They live with constant frustration. There are ways parents and teachers can use pictures, books, films, videos or plays to allow students to use their strong visual skills. There are strategies of visual instructions, routines and expectations around the house or classroom. These simple tactics can help lower the anxiety for students with ASD. It’s all on-line for those who need direct information.
You’ll learn how important little things you say can be. Use signal phrases like “This is important” or “Remember this” to highlight key ideas or directions. You can learn more tips in the online workshop or by downloading a copy of NEA’s Puzzle of Autism guide.
But whether or not you live with or care for a child with Autism, their families need your voice, as a caring member of our community. We need more funding for research to discover other techniques and strategies to help children with ASD. We need to invest in smaller class sizes. Did you know that for a child with ASD, the recommended student/teacher ratio is three to one, or less?
Under the federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), every child with a disability is guaranteed a free and appropriate public education. But Congress has not kept its promise to fully fund the law. If you want lawmakers to invest in strategies that support children with ASD, send them an email and tell them how you feel.
The brave Mom and Dad on my airplane need more than our sympathy. They need you and me and everyone to understand. And to do something about it. Ignoring a crisis doesn’t make it go away. Take the free NEA course on-line. Write that email to your member of Congress. Let autism touch your life in a way that makes life better for someone’s angel child.