Touched by autism: We need to be learners and advocates

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 boarding, I could tell something was different. The little boy with the angelic 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 say something to the screaming little 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 education teacher’s assistant who has struggled to reach inside these minds.

The reality is that autism affects 1 in 68 children, and is about 4.5 times more common in 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.

There are a number of things that teachers and support staff can do in the classroom and parents can reinforce at home. Resources on NEA’s website can help.

Students with ASD have trouble understanding and using language. They live with constant frustration. Parents and teachers can use pictures, books, films, videos and plays to allow students to use their strong visual skills. There are also strategies of visual instructions, routines and expectations around the house or classroom. These tactics can help lower the anxiety for students with ASD. 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. And it’s vital that we resource all schools so that these children have the support, tools and time to learn. Especially important are class sizes small enough for one-on-one attention.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education 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. And now, we have an Education Secretary—Betsy DeVos—who is not only unqualified for her position, but completely unfamiliar with the policies that affect the education of children with autism. A scientist at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, which operates a research and treatment program for children and adolescents with autism: “We are in deep, deep trouble as an autism community in the next four years.”

The brave moms and dads, like the ones I met on that airplane, need all of us—especially DeVos—to understand autism. And to do something about it. Ignoring a crisis doesn’t make it go away. Let autism touch your life in a way that makes life better for someone’s angel child.

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2 Responses to “Touched by autism: We need to be learners and advocates”

  1. Jan Chamberlin

    We are watching the documentary series entitled the truth about vaccines period basically the premise is that parents should be proactive and be allowed to get all the information about what’s in the vaccines and what the side effects are and be able to make wise decisions for their children the concern being put forth is that there are multiple vaccines been given to infants at the same time and that by the time these children are two years old a lot of them have severe autism so getting the facts and information can help parents be better educated and spread out the schedule for having their shots so that’s not so intense in a short period of time I would encourage anyone to watch the series it’s excellent thank you

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  2. Cindy Clark

    As a middle school educator and a parent of a preteen with ASD, this particular article struck very close to home. My husband and I thank the educators that my preteen has thus far had for altering some in-grained practices, keeping lines of communication open and loving our preteen for who they are and not as they would wish he/she would be. As our preteen makes the change from a K-6 school to the middle school I teach in next year, my husband and I are doing our due diligence to make sure the program she gets is the program she needs. We may even put in for a schools of choice petition since another local district seems to have more resources in this area that our preteen could benefit from. It is not easy to be both an educator and a parent when this is the issue but being the parent has made my teaching that much more sensitive. I only wish some of my colleagues would ask about what works/what doesn’t with these kids – I would be happy to share. .

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