This is Autism Awareness Month and my boy is autistic.
I don’t say that to draw attention to my son being autistic. I write that to draw attention to Autism.
Every post from now on in the month of April, I will start in this way, regardless of content. I’ve not done much this year I guess because I’m not a good planner, so this is the least I can do. I have blue shirts and blue nail polish and briefly I contemplated dying my hair blue; but ya know it has no effect if I don’t leave the house. Sometimes I wonder if there are people out there who will read this and listen…. especially people with the power to change things. We’ve had little victories here and there, but in general I am disheartened by the apathy of the education system. It’s either that they don’t give a damn, or maybe they are in a comfort zone they fear to leave. They have a system and this autism thing just throws a wrench into the works and screws them all up. I can tell you that when our school decided to form a social skills group, it was on the fly and they don’t even know if they’re doing anything right yet. I was told that they are creating it as they go along and while I’m glad that they are trying, I’m
a little a LOT worried about how successful their efforts will be.
Well, God will answer our prayers. In my case, because I’m not good at praying, He sees into my heart and knows what I need even before I know and I trust that. I received today in Gabe’s backpack, an envelope from his Speech teacher. Inside was a press release from the Union County Office of Public Information, announcing a new Sensory Friendly Theater series of performances specially designed for children with autism and related disabilities at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, NJ. The notice is entitled: “Union County Offers Theater Program for Children with Autism and Related Disabilities.” This is what caught my eye:
The new series, which begins on June 10 with Tom Chapin and Friends, is designed according to guidelines that help to reduce disturbances for youngsters who experience heightened sensory sensitivity. The Performing Arts Center is committed to a creating a judgment-free zone with plenty of trained specialists who understand autism and similar disabilities.
A sports program for the autistic child, it is not; and I personally would LOVE such a sports program. Seriously though, I wouldn’t care if this was a special program for making 10′ snowmen on a hot July afternoon. I’m in a state of elation right now because these are exactly the types of considerations our kids absolutely need in order to benefit from their participation. Adults who have training and understand autism (and similar disabilities) are absolutely essential for a successful program such as this. There is a lot more to this notice, but I keep coming back to the above words: “judgment-free zone, trained specialists, understand autism.” The sad fact is that our school professionals are officially none of these things. Let me just stop right here and say that this in no way diminishes the teaching abilities of these professionals. I think, as teachers, we are very lucky to have who we have, however….. My experience with school professionals working with my boy: Compassionate, yes. Patient, yes. Accommodating, yes (so far). But even our Special Ed teacher is not trained to understand autism. Why is that? Well, she got her degree way back in I don’t know what decade and has had no other education to bring her uptodate on Autism or any (similar disability)… umm that really, no, REALLY doesn’t sit right with me. I think I can be fairly certain of that because I’ve asked whether she had training and I never received an affirmative answer or any qualifiable answer. Soooo, what would you think? I’ve advocated to the principal, political candidates for office who come to our door, and anyone who’d listen, and even at a town meeting that it’s imperrative that our teachers be educated to understand autism. I feverently believe that it’s not just unfair to ask our children to be put into a classroom with adults who don’t understand them; but it’s also unfair to put teachers into that same room with the knowledge, tools and strategies to educate these kids and navigate the myriad of possible disruptions that can occur. So you see, I have reason to feel disheartened. Anyone who comes to this door will continue to get an earful and I suppose will regret knocking on our particular door…. oh well. SO to get this news today gave me a little hope.
I’d also like to share with you the person responsible, Union County Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella. I won’t replicate the whole announcement here, but here is a link at NJtoday. If you’d like to call for information, here the number to call: 732-499-8226… OR here’s the link to Sensory Friendly Theater web page