We hear it all the time: parents are convinced that if they find just the right classroom setting, just the right teacher, just the right doctors, that their child’s behaviours and challenges will disappear. No doubt these things can help, but...how to put this gently?
Ain’t gonna happen.
Autism is how we are wired. There's no need to fix us. If neurotypicals could take time to understand what it means to be an autistic human being? Now that would be far more helpful.
You see, autism doesn't need to be cured, but it does need consideration. Autism is a pervasive development disorder--this means people with the diagnosis might have challenges in social communication, repetitive and restrictive behaviours, in their experience of the sensory world, with anxiety, and in learning many life skills across the lifespan.
Challenges? Yes, because we have to live in a world dominated by neurotypicals who insist on sameness while demanding flexibility; who have a frenetic need to socialize, and who have arbitrarily decided that our expertise/intense interests are obsessive though theirs are hobbies and collections.
Fact is, Autism IS NOT a disease. It is not a mental illness. It is a way of thinking, a way of experiencing the environment, a way of learning that is often different than a typical person’s. The problem is not with the label—the problem is that the typical world and all of its systems of support don’t know what to do with our unique way of thinking or our creative way of seeing the world.
Often, the slow and deliberate way that some of us move through the world drives people around us bonkers, and there is little patience for any gaps in our social understanding.
The reality is, there are many advantages to being autistic.
To wit:most can hyper-focus for hours, days, months, years on end in areas of special interest. That may be why the autistic brain has played a leading role in many of mankind’s greatest achievements. That’s also why it is so important to support children, teens and young adults to find careers in the areas they find most engaging. When parents and schools work to help kids be great at something, it bodes well for attending post-secondary and achieving career success.
It really is time for schools to embrace the potential in their ASD students. It’s a far more sensible plan than continuing to force those children to manage curriculums whose pace and content are poorly matched to the autistic learner.
Boards of Education that expect people with ASD to produce the same volume of work, in the same environments, and in the same ways as typical students can destroy self-esteem and contribute substantially to the high rates of school avoidance and school refusal among autistic students.
It’s time to provide strength-based curriculums, mentoring, and work-placements to make the school experience more relevant and engaging for student on the spectrum.
The consequences of doing nothing are too high:
When the pace of a typical school experience exceeds the student's ability to cope, the consequences can include extreme anxiety, depression, increase in executive functioning challenges, conflict in the family dynamic, and increases in refusal to try or to start....anything.
So here’s where we stand: autism does not need to be cured. It needs to be understood.
Daniel and I are committed to changing understanding so that we can change actions within school, the home, and in communities everywhere.