When I meet mainstream educators and parents of a child with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism I am often faced with a desperate yearning for step-by-step strategies and tools for their teaching practice or parenting ways.
I want to share with you today what I feel is the beginning piece of the puzzle in supporting individuals with autism and finding ways to manage the day-to-day challenges that parents and professionals face.
And here it is: Your Attitude.
The attitude you bring to the experience of educating and parenting children with neuro-diversity, will determine the amount of success YOU and THEY experience.
You must adopt an attitude of embracing uncertainty, and view it as an opportunity for your own growth and development; rather than an attitude of fear or resistance toward the uncertainty the experience brings.
Let me share a story with you.
Eight years ago I was fortunate enough to land myself a teaching gig in an amazing and inspiring special needs school in a borough of West London. I became the classroom teacher to 8 spirited and beautiful children, with a team of 4 teaching assistants that soon became part of my London family.
I remember my first day so clearly, the uncertainty and nervous energy that filled me was so intense and when one of my experienced assistants offered to show me the ropes- I was secretly wondering how long I could remain in the backseat for.
My students all had a diagnosis of autism and many had additional support needs. Each one was truly unique and incredible little beings and taught me so much in the 2 years as their teacher.
Slowly overtime the nature of that classroom, with all it’s daily challenges and individual traits of my students, became less and less scary, and there became a point in the year where I began to feel confident and competent, that what I was doing was really making a difference in these students lives and I no longer carried that overwhelming feeling of incompetency. Don’t get me wrong each and every single day came with new challenges, which we could never completely prepare for, but I was starting to feel more in control of the classroom environment and catering to the students needs.
Then the news came that a new student was joining our class. I recall the news sending me into a downward spiral of fear and anxiety. He also had a diagnosis of autism and even with my experience it is as true as the saying goes: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”. I could identify with this as each of my students had such different needs and ways of learning, so it was the fear of the unknown again that was creeping in.
Did I have the skills to educate this new student and cater to his needs? Would an additional student disrupt the progress and routine I had taken so long to establish in the class?
Fortunately I was able to embrace the unknown with the knowledge that I had dealt with so many unknowns in the class already, and we all adapted and embraced the diversity of our classroom.
What I hope I have illustrated with this account is that even myself with training, a uni degree and experience in a variety of education settings I still experienced the common feelings of fear around uncertainty and the unknown.
Let’s take a moment to think about our mainstream educators that often get none or very little training and support in the areas of special needs and neurodiversity. Not to mention the increasing demands and pressure that is being put upon them today.
For parents and educators who ever experience this feeling, I see it we have 2 choices:
you can embrace the uncertainty, acknowledge it for what it is- fear of the unknown- and rise to the challenge, or
continue to live in a place of fear that prevents us from progressing along a growth seeking path
I want to finish this post with an interesting thought:
These same feelings of uncertainty and incompetence experienced by us, is a parallel to the life experience of children on the spectrum.
A main characteristic that we see in individuals with autism is the difficulty managing uncertainty.
Core challenges for individuals on the spectrum are attaching personal meaning to experiences, appraising the environment, meaningful communication, self-awareness, and flexible thinking, which all lead to problems with managing uncertainty and the unknown.
This inability to manage uncertainty leads to fear and, very often, resistance and retreat into comfortable and consistent environments and experiences. This is just one way to describe what it means to have autism.