This guest blog post is by Ann Kagarise. Ann is a writer, self-advocate, photographer and assistant director at a school for children with autism. This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives. Have a story you want to share for the series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.
Having autism is such a unique way of seeing the world. What have I done to teach the community about autism? Every morning that I go to work at a school for kids with autism, I see it as an opportunity to be an example. Having a platform, as a teacher, with kids on the spectrum is truly an honor. I am humbled that they let me into their world. The fact that I have autism, makes our connection that much deeper. I understand their language and they understand mine. When I was a young student with autism, I had such a hard time learning, in school, so I created my own way of learning. I was pretty determined. Since I was told I wouldn’t graduate high school, I had to figure out a way to make it happen. My determination got me a master’s degree. When I was asked to work at a school for kids with autism, I was nervous but saw an opportunity to be in a learning environment that I understood.
My class is very diverse. They ALL learn differently. Reaching each of them, individually, in their own unique way of learning was the only way to do it. One needs an oral test to be successful; one needs me to provide multiple choices while another needs more open-ended questions. Am I giving them the answers? NO! Am I providing them a way to be successful? YES! They all know the material, it just all needs to be processed in different ways and they need to be able to express themselves in the way that works best for them. Some need more time to answer a question. Some have working memories issues that need more helps to get them to the answer, but meeting them where they are, is key.
When I grew up, I had to tape what was said or what I read and I had to break it down into very simple small sentences for me to understand. When I teach, I write each concept in very short phrases with a lot fewer words. It works!
Behavior is a passion of mine. Having autism gives me a little bit of an advantage. When they tell me, they can’t but I see them flinching, I know it is the light going through the window and I move them. If I see they are a little antsy, I let them move around. If they need to hold a fidget to play with, that is fine. Whatever it takes, BUT excuses for NOT doing their work is not an option. The first time a student said to me that they couldn’t do it because they had autism, they heard from me the old “I have autism too,” speech and that I’ve never allowed that to hold me back.
I’m not afraid for them to see me mess up or notice that I process slow, as well. I want them to see my autism. I want them to see the struggles, but more importantly, I want them to see that I found a way around those obstacles and made it to success. I want them to see that nothing stops me. I had a hard time orally communicating, but I have found a way with notes and determination to make it work as I stand in front of the class. I’m not afraid to say, “Hey I don’t know that answer right now, but let’s look it up together.” Memorizing is just that, memorizing, but teaching them HOW to learn, teaching them HOW to make it over the obstacles...that’s what matters.
Have a story you want to share about living on the autism spectrum? Email us at InOurOwnWords@autismspeask.org.