Being Present with Autism

There is as much diversity among autistics as among neurotypicals. We must individualize our educational programs to meet the needs of each autistic individual.

 BullsEyeHaving raised two boys, it was interesting to be a part of the development of two very different growing-up experiences. Although each boy would have been diagnosed on the neurotypical spectrum (if such a diagnosis existed), they were very different from each other and consequently experienced very different challenges in school and society. And that seems to be the case with the neurotypical population in general--there is such great diversity within it, making it impossible (to my mind) to conclude a typical profile. Yet often this model is held as the aim when diagnosed on the autistic spectrum.

Parents of children on the spectrum are frequently subjected to many developmental approaches, many of which come with the promise, spoken or unspoken, that the child will either be indistinguishable from their “normal” peer group or not appear so different. I believe this atmosphere of thought creates a great deal of unintended pressure to the autistic individual and caretakers to achieve some future goal, with the additional threat that there is a window of optimum opportunity and to miss it would be unfortunate.

Much expense, sacrifice, and energy can often be expended in trying to attain this future state of being. The inherent danger of such a strong future focus is that the individual who is before us is not seen as good enough as s/he is now and very current challenges the person may be having are not being fully addressed.

There is as much diversity amongst autistics as amongst neurotypicals. Because of this difference, we must individualize our educational programs to meet the needs of each autistic individual. In addressing the challenges currently experienced by the individual, we can appeal to the interests, strengths, and observed characteristics of autism to create educational strategies that are motivating and self-directed.

Characteristics such as Need for Sameness and Routine can be viewed as a deficit behavior when the individual insists on doing the same types of behaviors over and over again. However, when routine is incorporated into the educational setting, it can be a win-win situation for both teacher and student. For example, work in our workshop unfolds routinely in a left-to-right direction. This is always the case and when setting up any new activity, left-to-right is part of the strategy.

 

EMPLOYERS

 

Consider hiring a person on the autism spectrum next time the opportunity presents itself.  I believe you won’t regret it.  There is a vast, untapped talent pool of unemployed autistic individuals with great skills who would give anything to be employed. It might be that when the “Seeking Help” sign is posted, not many autistic individuals apply due to social challenges they experience.  However, if you, as the employer, indicated that you are willing to hire autistics you may be surprised to find that some will apply. It may take some courage confronting the unknown; however, with a willingness to understand the autistic individual, and perhaps a few minor adaptations to the work environment, you just might end up with the best employee you ever had. Give it a try!

-Ron Larsen

 

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