Each and every time I step into an educational environment, I'm always confronted with the same thing..
The attitude and belief that Autism is something that needs to be overcome.
Our social conditioning is often so rigid, that the only way most of us see difference is to associate it with disorder instantly. If a person's brain processes differently, is capable of different skills, does not operate in the same way as most other brains, then we consider it to be 'wrong'.
In the classroom environment, we continue to have expectations of autistic children to be capable of the same thinking and doing as non autistic children-to request a break, to remain calm, to withstand sensory sensitivities, to participate in large group activities, to ask for help..the list goes on.
But we also have expectations of them to IDENTIFY what they need.
And often, they can't.
They haven't been given the freedom to be themselves and to know themselves..
NO matter how much training and professional development we receive as educators, our own brains still file all of the characteristics associated with autism under the 'fix and change' category.
Yet the reality is, if a child didn't struggle with the above challenges, they wouldn't have been noticed as being different, they wouldn't have been psychologically and cognitively assessed, they would not have a diagnosis of autism.
When we learn a person is autistic, it's important to know that no matter how well they appear to be completing tasks, functioning within a classroom, coping with challenges, appearing the same as their non autistic peers, they are still AUTISTIC.
Appearance means nothing. Not to the trained eye. Not to the person with lived experience of autism.
What we don't see and feel is the internalised experience of a person on the spectrum.
During school days, many children will cope and cope and cope, shutting down parts of themselves, fitting themselves into metaphorical boxes, hiding their anxiety, pretending they're okay..to fit in.
When they arrive home, in their safe environment, they explode.
And this is because the message of conformity being expected of them is POWERFUL AND EVIDENT.
When we engage in a battle and attempt to correct an autistic child to behave and to think in non autistic ways, we are telling them they're wrong to be who they are.
Children on the spectrum need to know we accept them as they are. They want and need for us to guide them through MANAGING their challenges, but not hating themselves for not feeling strong enough or empowered to overcome them in any given moment.
Does this mean autistic children can't work through challenges and move forward?
It means we need to understand that a challenge is a challenge. We can work with it, work through it and accept and understand how best to do this with an AUTISTIC brain.
This means that we need to figure out how to approach challenges and solutions differently, from a different perspective.
An autistic perspective.
We are constantly asking autistic children to consider a non autistic view, yet we're unlikely to do the same for them.
We can't ask anything of any children when we're not willing to model it first.
Empower autistic children by helping them to use their incredible brains and resilient bodies to work through difficult times, because they can..
When they KNOW they are ACCEPTED, SUPPORTED and VALUED.
Don't make their autism the challenge.
Make it the reason they can succeed. Equip them with insights and understandings around how fortunate they are, unique to be able to accomplish many things others can't.
Highlight their gifts, show them their importance and they will feel EMPOWERED to work through challenges.
A child's behaviour is often in direct proportion with how valued, safe and trusting they feel in an environment; how healthy their sense of self is.
Autistic brains bring so many gifts, we need to start showing children how to tap into them and to feel strong and empowered by using the brain they have, not the non autistic brain they will never have.
Our autistic children need to understand that anything they achieve in life is BECAUSE of their autism, NOT DESPITE IT.