This thoughtful piece is an excerpt from member Joanie Calem’s blog, you can see the original piece here.
I always remind myself that change begins with me, in my soul, in my home, in my work, in my world. And what is my world? My world is a world of music and community and autism and special people with special needs, and very piercing questions!!
Autism is a different culture than the mainstream culture. It is one more culture that must be embraced and accepted by the mainstream culture. While it is fairly easy to identify different ethnic cultures by an individual’s dress or skin color, autism is often not immediately recognized by the observer.
In the world of autism, there are many questions to ask. What causes autism? Can it be healed? Why are there so many children with autism now? What’s going on that the numbers keep rising? What’s with this ongoing controversy about vaccinations? How do we encompass people with autism? How do we help them figure out this world? What changes do those with “typical” neurology (is there really such a thing?) need to make in their communication styles in order to include people with sensory processing disorder and atypical neurology? (Those are just some of my questions….I’m sure everyone reading this can add questions of their own and I invite you to do so in the comment section!)
As both an educator of people on the autism spectrum and a parent of someone on the spectrum, I have to be open to asking the unspoken questions and to conversing with my son on his questions. Throughout the years of helping him learn to negotiate the world, he has asked questions constantly. So many of his questions were uncomfortable to answer, because he easily notices the flaws in societal expectations of behavior! “Mom, why can’t I show my excitement and enthusiasm? Why do I have to be quiet?” Ah, good point…why is excitement and enthusiasm only allowed in sports arenas and rock concerts (and some political venues at certain times), and not in learning settings, where supposedly we want to enthuse our learners?
We need to keep on asking questions, and to keep on encouraging our children and their teachers to ask questions. My son is now at art school. He was accepted with a scholarship because of his art abilities. He is a talented artist. However, he speaks in pictures, not words, and maintaining verbal and written university level standards is a tremendous challenge for him, one that is not actually attainable at this point. So one new twist on the question that I have had to ask throughout his life is directed towards the institutions that accept students with different learning styles: are they accepted but expected to fulfill the exact same academic standards as everyone else in the school? Or by accepting them, does the institution recognize that they are a different type of learner and can fulfill those academic standards in a different fashion?
Ask my son a question, and let him draw you the answer. You will receive a deep, highly nuanced, thought-provoking response, that will provide you with information to continue the conversation. Ask him a question, and require him to answer you verbally or in writing, and you will receive a potentially confused answer that will leave you wondering how to proceed in the conversation.
As an educator, I thoroughly understand the requirement for academic institutions to maintain standards. I also understand the ability to be flexible and encompass different learning styles and neurological brain structures. So the question I pose myself is this: how can I help explain to the world that being different is wonderful, and that reaching out to the “other” in whatever fashion that presents itself, is a welcome challenge?
Here is a song I wrote for my son’s Bar Mitzvah…..full of his questions, and our attempts at answers 🙂 He was 13 at the time, and of course his questions are now different….but many of my answers are the same.