There seems to be differing viewpoints on autism by the public depending on experience. For me, as a teacher for children with Autism, I do not see autism as something that needs to be fixed or cured. For me I see it as a unique way of walking through life. My experience with these children has forever changed how I see or think about the world. I think we as a society could benefit from the unique thought process and talent so many have displayed in my classroom.
However, I often run into others including parents who want their child fixed or cured. They want their child to be like everyone else. I understand this as these children often suffer emotionally due to being misunderstood or unappreciated for their gifts and talents. The stress they experience & the effort they must exert to conform is heartbreaking at times. Publically, I have seen so many ‘neuro- typical’ people including children become uncomfortable, tease or ignore a child’s communication attempts, the way they express their feelings or how they respond to sensory stimulation.
I know as a society we strive for conformity & we are uncomfortable with outliers or unexpected behaviors. This striving to share attitudes, beliefs & behaviors is exactly where these children struggle. The tendency to conform is almost programmed into people, unconscious, unaware. The pressure from society is intense and everywhere. My students miss these clues but do feel the pressure of not conforming in many indirect ways. This of course results in a host of emotional, esteem, and anxiety concerns for these children. Their behaviors trigger alert in others. They get identified as an outlier, different and in time they have the label of Autism. Is this part of the reason for the increase in reporting? I don’t know but do wonder.
So, you must be asking how is this connected to technology? iPads? As I reach my first year (March) having 1:1 iPads in my class, I reflect on how they have impacted my students and myself. The obvious is that iPads have given my students a voice, a way to use & showcase their incredible strengths which have surprised and delighted me, many parents and most importantly my students. My students shine with this device as it taps into their visual strengths, has predictability, immediate feedback, provides a safe way to communicate and practice communication, increases time on task, motivation and engagement .. my list is long.
The iPad is also an excellent tool for reducing stress, differentiating teaching & learning, presenting what they have learned or know is so powerful that I must find a way to honor & share their efforts. Their self–esteem, overall confidence, focus and motivation increased dramatically. They communicated more not less. The device opened a door for their unique talents & is clearly a device that allows one to step out of the box. Plus it has the 'cool' factor and is increasing in prevalence!
But more importantly for me it has given me a window into their thought process for which I am forever grateful.
Plus, all this got me to thinking of how a digital portfolio and getting work into the hands of their families to share that while their children are different from the ‘norm’ their beauty is in that difference.