Autism Awareness, The Human Connection

We’re All In This Together

I can’t believe we’re already in April, and you know what that means…it’s Autism Awareness Month!
Today is Autism Awareness Day, and my spotlight this week will be on Autism. This month allows me to continue to educate the other staff members about Autism Spectrum Disorder. These are the really big points I like to share:
1. Autism Spectrum Disorder is just that…a spectrum!
I cannot stress this enough. There is no cookie cutter for Autism. There is, within the school I work in a specific Autism program. I have students who are nonverbal, low-verbal, and extremely verbal. I have students who tantrum, students in self-contained classroom, and students in the mainstream classroom. Whatever your stereotype is for ASD, throw it out the window. There is no such thing.
2. We all have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses.
I have students with high linguistic skills and low academic skills, I also have the reverse. I have kids who are great reading, and kids who are great at math. I have kids who need different supports in different areas. This is true for all of my students, and I teach this to students and staff alike. None of us are perfect, and no one’s good at everything. Every strength should be celebrated.
3. Everything has a purpose or intention. Stop telling me and my student to “stop it.”
Maybe my student is having a tough time with something. This could be because someone skipped her turn in a game or because he’s not wearing the shirt he wanted to wear to school today because it’s in the wash. Maybe my student is uncomfortable. Any of these, may lead to potential non-compliant behavior, crying, screaming, or other behaviors. This is my student’s way of communicating dissatisfaction with something because either 1. he’s so frustrated that words are insufficient, 2. She doesn’t understand why you don’t understand she’s not happy and it should be as obvious to you as it is to her, 3. this is how my student is expressing themselves in this moment. 4. Any combination or alternatively, none of the above. Maybe my student asked me to go to the bathroom 3 times during a session–this could be an escape or avoidance behavior because what I’m doing isn’t interesting to them. Please stop asking my students to stop it, or say “Can’t you DO something about that?” How do you feel when your needs aren’t met? Not pleased, I’d imagine, and quite frustrated. My students do not react this way without purpose.
Now here’s the take-away, you ready? WE ARE ALL HUMAN. ALL OF US.
My students have feelings, and so do their families, friends, teachers, and service providers. They are not less than you. Their lives are remarkable, and we can learn so much from them if we only take the time to watch, listen, and learn. These are people with unique experiences, just like the rest of us. They are not “motivational” or heroes; they are not to be pitied. There are things they love and things that annoy them. They want and deserve what we all want and deserve, and that’s acceptance and inclusion in this world. They are not other. They are people, and I count my lucky stars every day that I get to work with the varying abilities of my students. We’re all works in progress and we’re all learning every day. These people are NOT their disorder, they’re people to be valued as much as any other person you know. This month will largely focus on what I do with my students and what works with a variety of different abilities. We are ALL equally as extraordinary as we are ordinary, and we all need support in many aspects of our lives, even if it doesn’t always look the same.
In addition to all I will share about Autism, this month is also my one year Hamilversary–when my life was forever changed by witnessing the magic that is this show. It’s transformative and reflective, while making you want to take immediate action towards whatever you want to do with your life. Angelica said it best, “I have never been the same.”
 How did this translate into the speech room? I’ve used some of the songs and raps to teach articulation, increase or decrease rates of speech with the use of metronomes and different rhythms. I went through 2 highlighters to teach a student /r/ which is the most evil of all speech sounds. I’ve used nonfiction text relating to Hamilton–taught in my school’s fourth grade curriculum–to address main idea, key details, summarizing all with graphic organizers and lots of discussion. As a reward (possibly more for me than my students) we get to have dance parties to the songs that are permissible for me to play. Since April usually coincides with spring break, there may be some bonus posts or mention of shows I’ve seen. Spring break hasn’t begun for us yet, but I will be spending it in part in a few theatres, and I’ll bring back my thoughts as well as how I can incorporate what I saw into the speech room.
I look forward to sharing all of this and more with you!
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

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