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Authentic Inclusion: A Prize-Winner with Autism

This is a blog post by autism expert Lisa Jo Rudy of Lisa Jo Rudy is a professional writer, researcher and consultant, and the mother of a 14-year-old boy with an autism spectrum disorder. Lisa is the author of Get out, Explore, and Have Fun! How Families of Children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Every summer, there’s a terrific county fair in our town.  4-H members bring their sheep, chickens and pigs for judging…  moms present their jams and pickles…  and kids submit their drawings, paintings, photos, K’nex structures and lego buildings to see what kind of prize they can win.
Of course, 4-H gives every submission some kind of prize.  But this year was a bit special in our family.  Our daughter, Sara, won “Best of Show” at the pet competition, for her presentation of her friendly rat, Reepicheep.
And Tom, our son, also won a Best in Show prize.  Tom’s was for an elaborate lego structure he’d created entirely on his own, all by himself, in his bedroom.
4-H actually asks each family whether the child entering the competition has any special needs.  In the past, we’d said yes.  This year, though, we went with “no.”
Our son, Tom, is nearly fifteen.  Diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) at age three, he is squarely on the autism spectrum.  While Tom is verbal and engaged with the world, he thinks, speaks and interacts differently from  his peers.  Typical classrooms are very difficult for him, as are friendships and casual chats.
But for Tom, creating unique structures with legos is a no-brainer.  He can build almost any lego structure he sees – and he seems to be able to figure out just how to create anything he can dream up.  The piece he submitted to the fair was very special: a café, complete with kitchen, tables, food, a stage, and a full-scale jazz band with piano and horns!
The truth is that Tom does have special needs under many circumstances.  But at the fair, his submission wasn’t just “good enough,” or  “adapted.”  It was, quite simply, the best in its class.
Where does your child shine?  What abilities does he have that make him not just “includable,” but outstanding?
Even if it’s just for a moment, in one setting, with one group of people – how does your child with autism earn real, authentic admiration and respect?

Check out the piano and horn players in the top center, the patrons at their tables, and the waiters moving through the restaurant.  Not shown are the real, working electric lights!

Tom’s café won first prize and Best in Show at the county fair.  Look closely, and you’ll notice that we’ve written “no” under “special needs.”
Read more from Lisa Jo Rudy at Autism at  at or The Authentic Inclusion Site. Check out our interview with Lisa Jo Rudy on this month’s Community Connections page – Stepping Up to Summertime Fun!