California Educator

March 2016

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about how broad the spectrum is and how many highly success- ful people — both in history and currently — are now thought to be on the autism spectrum. May b e Ei n st e i n a n d Moz a r t . NASA folk s. A good chunk of Silicon Valley. "People on the spectrum often do extrem ely well in life," I said. "We waited, we didn't ask for the assessment until now," the boy's mother said, wiping away a tear that had threatened to spill over. " We thought it was a stage. Maybe we should have done something sooner." At s o m e p o i n t i n e a c h o f these parent interviews, there c om e s a ti m e w h en I d e c i d e whether or not I will share my story. Sometimes I don't share it at all . But sometimes I feel I need to, for the authority it will bring me with skeptical parents. And sometimes I do it in order to maintain rapport so we can work together on how to help their child learn. But this mother needed something else. "I have a son — a teenager — who's on the autism spectrum." ey stared at me as if this was i m p o ssi b l e , th e profe ssi o n a l across from them having a son like theirs. "We got the diagnosis of Asperger's when he was 11," I said, immediately remembering the cold cement floor of the huge bookstore on which I sat for two hours aft er we got th e n e w s, pulling books off the shelf and skimming them fiercely, desperate to know if it was true, if my kid had this thing I didn't even know how to spell. Back then we didn't know what we now know. When I trained in the early '80s, autism meant kids twiddling their fingers in front of their faces, making odd vocal sounds but no words. In my master's pro- gram in the early '80s, we read about the cold, withholding "refrigerator mother" c au si n g auti sm . Th e m o th er was always getting blamed back t h e n , f o r h o m o s e xu a li ty, f o r schizophrenia, for autism. "It gets better," I told the cou- ple. "It definitely gets better. He's in c o l l ege n ow, h av in g s om e trouble managing the workload, but things are so much better." My son Matt had just texted me the week before: I continue to live, learn, and change. And real- izing this made me break into a genuine smile, one that comes from feeling happy, not one that c o m e s f r o m t r y i n g t o m a k e others happy. It was true. After the years of fists through walls, a broken mirror and a broken toe, and calls to the police, it had gotten better. But I didn't want to tell them about those scary times or the ambulance. Their son would be different in most ways; no two people on the autism spectrum are exactly the same. It was enough for th e par - ents of the first-grader that day. Before they left my room, the boy 's mother came around the table and opened her arms for an embrace. She squeezed and then let go. "It makes me feel so much better that you know what we're going through." Anne K. Ross is the pen name of a C TA m emb er w ith thre e decades of experience working in public schools in Northern California. Beyond Rain Man : What One Psychologist Learned Raising a Son on the Autism Spectrum, Leatherback Press, April 2016, In the Classroom April is Autism Awareness Month. Students with autism can thrive in general-education classrooms. Here are ways to ensure they do: • Use tons of visuals. Templates, models of expected work, schedules, outlines and visual mapping help stu- dents get organized and learn. • Don't insist on eye contact from students who can't process what you're saying when they have to look at you. Some kids need to look away in order to focus on the auditory modality. • Understand that students may have sensory defensiveness and aren't able to tolerate certain forms of touch. A tap on the shoulder or a pat on the hand can make them physically uncomfortable. Loud noises can make some want to run for cover. Allow for sensory breaks. • Give kids plenty of time to process requests and to respond. Even though they're smart, most kids on the spectrum have measurably slow processing speed. Give plenty of warnings about upcoming transitions and changes in the routine to alleviate anxiety. • Use specific, concrete language. Kids on the spec- trum have trouble with abstract language. Instead of saying, "Get ready for lunch," say, "Put your papers in the desk and wash your hands." Realize that figurative language like idioms and metaphor, humor and sarcasm, may be misunderstood. • Keep homework to a minimum. Many kids on the spectrum are exhausted from the school day, and some have therapy appointments (like social skills and occupa- tional therapy) aer school. • Make a point to discover students' particular interests and skills. Use them to capture attention, motivate and facilitate work with peers. Source: Anne K. Ross For NEA's "Teaching Students With Autism" guide for edu- cators, see (search for "autism"). 45 March 2016

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