Monday, April 7, 2008


Just the other day I was talking about April being Autism Awareness Month with my student teacher and we started talking about the children in my regular ed. class with autism. I told her how just 6 years ago when I was in college, no one even mentioned the word autism to me. I didn't know what "the spectrum" meant and my only experience with autism was watching Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. It wasn't until my first year teaching that I was blessed with having Michael in my class, a 6 year old blond hair, blue eyed, brilliant little boy. His mother came on "Meet the Teacher Day," and pulled me aside. She told me, her eyes filled with tears, that Michael had been diagnosed with a form of autism at the end of his Kindergarten year last year. I had no idea what this would mean for me, Michael, or the rest of the class. I had no experience or previous knowledge about what being autistic meant.

That year I learned:
my big open classroom shared by two other 1st grade teachers and their classes was not the right place for M
the phone ringing = a major tantrum
the trapezoid table with a long table cloth was a perfect place to hide
my name was not Ms.H but Blair because that is what it said on my name tag
my colleague smelled like maple syrup
to be careful how I worded things because saying "its raining cats and dogs" could be quite confusing
all the reasons/theories the Titantic sank
how to follow a schedule

I found myself getting so frustrated because how could Michael, the same little boy who could tell me why Bruce Ismay, Thomas Andrew, or Captin Lord were blammed for the Titantic sinking could not understand that it is not ok to yell in the middle of my lessons. I couldn't understand how someone so smart would hit another student instead of using his words to let them know he didn't want to read with a partner. I stayed on the phone with his mother for hours many days after school and finally reached a point of exhaustion. I had no idea what to do, how to teach Michael or the rest of the class, and I was angry that I did not have any training to handle this situation. To be honest I felt like, why is this child in my class? I'm not a special education teacher?!? As time went on however, I learned the most important thing of all from Michael... I learned how to differeintiate my instruction, how to meet ALL students' needs, and how to respect every child for who they are and where they are in their development.

This experience reminds me of Maya Angelou who once said, "When you know better, you do better." Each year I have had students with autism in my class. They all have different needs and what worked for me and Michael does not always work for me and the other children in my class with autism, but I have a better understanding and appreciation and most of all a stronger respect for children with autism and their families.


Mean Mommy said...

After reading this beautiful post, I gotta say those national board people are stoooopid if they don't certify you.