If it is alive, It can learn
I now have two autistic students on my roster; they couldn’t be more different which reinforces the belief that autism is an extremely complex disability with a wide gamut of characteristics. From musical genius to mentally challenged, we never know as teachers what to expect. That’s what makes autism such a fascinating area of research, though the parents certainly would prefer to have “normal” children.
Dr. Temple Grandin, Autistic, Author, Animal Expert and Activist for the Autism Syndrome
One of the two boys, autism hits males ten times more than females, is an accomplished musician and a fixture in the local band. The other student is frail, thin, and extremely pleasant, a sign that his is afflicted by a light case of autism. The more severe the disability and the less sociable the kid becomes, to the point of openly rejecting his own mother’s attempts at caresses. Intelligence varies also from very low to very high, as shown by Dr. Temple Grandin, a great lady who openly admits that she is not very sociable.
Autistic people have some common traits, among which we can list the following: They don’t like surprises, change of any kind, meeting new people, cuddling with anybody, crowds, and looking at people in the eye. It seems that I recognize some of my own dislikes, such as crowds, which doesn’t make me autistic but clearly shows that most of us share some of those characteristics.
I took the time to talk to the classroom teachers about these two students because no amount of paper forms can do what a short one-to-one chat can do. One of them took the time to visit me in my office, a rare treat, and ask me some questions regarding autism and sharing some incidents he observed. I explained to him that my autistic student hates being teased or become the butt of jokes, something all of us can relate to; however, autistic people may react violently or burst into tears no matter what their age is. They simply don’t know how to behave when emotions are involved. I had an autistic student throw a school desk across the room a few years ago, narrowly missing another student. He was already 18 years-old, weighing 300 pounds, but totally incapable of controlling his actions.
One of the most troubling traits of kids with severe autism is the fact that they, sometimes, do not feel pain. They seem to have a much higher tolerance or perhaps lack of nerve endings that signal that something is not working well. That is a nightmare for any mother who may not discover this trait until the problem has become so serious that a hospital intervention is needed. Autistic kids may also suffer from speech delay and/or speech disorders which, when added to their withdrawn nature, makes it very difficult to know what’s going on physically and mentally. Frequent checks by parents and teachers are necessary to anticipate any complication.
In a recent study, 49% of parents of autistic children reported a dangerous trend: Wandering. Quite a few kids tried to escape from their homes, simply because they were looking for a certain object or animal. Many resulted killed or wounded in accidents. If you are a parent with such a child, be very careful; they may try to take off if they are old enough and get lost or fall prey to some degenerated human being. Another problem which I addressed earlier is bullying by older children, especially in middle and high school. Parents may observe a change in the autistic child, such as falling grades and a depressed attitude. It may well be caused by bullies and must be addressed immediately by teachers and staff.
Autism is still an enigma for science, though many believe that toxic products, which may not even be detected in the home, might be the cause of this genetic abnormality. In any case, let’s welcome these children who remind us that humanity is founded on diversity and uniqueness. They enrich our lives every day as we discover that they respond to education just like ordinary children. They can learn, they can flourish, if we give them the attention they deserve.