True Inclusion: Middle School Class Experiences Autism
Today we had the honor of facilitating Experience Autism for a middle school class in West Virginia.
My “Ah Ha!” moment happened at the very beginning of class.
I asked, “Who has heard the word ‘autism’?” Every hand went up.
I asked, “Who knows someone with autism?” Every hand went up.
I asked, “Who can tell me what autism is?” Not one hand went up.
Today we didn’t “raise awareness” about autism. Clearly even 7th graders are aware of it.
No. Today we helped one class understand autism. There is a big difference between the two.
By going through the activities in the experience, these kids were able to actually encounter some of the challenges faced by people on the autism spectrum. They dealt with tactile issues. They learned what it was like to need a picture to complete a task when words simply made no sense. They struggled with a simple task of stringing beads and felt the frustration of having motor skill difficulties. They tried working while encountering visual distortions and depth perception challenges. They laughed, they were irritated, they stumbled and they struggled. And in the end, every single one of them not only knew what autism was, but they personalized it. And then they talked about what they could do to help make life easier for their classmates, friends, family and neighbors with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
THIS is what it’s all about. THIS is true inclusion. THIS is what will bridge the gap, what will create empathy, what will defeat exclusion and bullying.
Mother Theresa said “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Today we cast a stone across the water. The ripples have begun. I can’t wait to watch them multiply.