As young adults through all walks of life move towards adulthood, they are challenged at some point with navigating through the education system and maintaining social relationships. As a teacher, working with students with autism, many of whom communicate through the use of assistive technology, I have witnessed the magnification of these struggles in the lives of many of my students. But, the events of one young man in particular, Paul, I hold dear as a reminder of why I continue to teach and strive towards inclusion. Even when confronted with adversity from general education teachers, I press on, and Paul’s story of inclusion is one that is an inspiration for all.
Paul, more than many other students of mine, was very shy and completely dependent on others to prompt him through social exchanges using his iPad communication system. In fact, on many instances, he covered his face with his hands to avoid any interactions. I was determined to help Paul move past this, but knew the situation would need creative thinking.
Previously, Paul had been included in general education classes such as art and P.E., but with little success progressing towards meeting his goal to increase social interaction. As his teacher I decided to try something new for him, enrolling him in drama. With Paul having no verbal communication and the drama teacher no experience with inclusion it was a battle to get him enrolled.
After that challenge was met, I was determined to make this a success, so that teachers could use what Paul and I learned to help other students with similar challenges. During the first weeks of class, Paul started small, staying only for a few minutes each day with me by his side. With lots of prompting, complemented by patience and understanding from his classmates and drama teacher, Paul learned to say one line at a time, while sitting in his seat. He was not forced to go on stage, or stand in the spotlight, but he was encouraged to continue with his new skills. As the weeks progressed, so did Paul. Eventually he eased his way on stage, read multiple lines from his iPad, and slowly started moving his hands from in front of his face while in class. By the end of the semester, Paul walked to class on his own, stayed for the whole session, and had support from many peers in the class who initially were quite unsure of how to interact with him. He participated just as the other students did, went on stage, stood in the spotlight and read multiple lines independently.
Paul had made new friends not only in the drama class, but they sought him out throughout the campus, to introduce him to their other friends. Also, I noticed, with his newly found confidence, Paul did not put his hands in front of his face as much to avoid interactions. Paul was using his iPad to communicate more, not just for reading practiced lines. The successes that were uncovered for Paul went much deeper than just the intended results. Paul, his peers, and I all learned so many invaluable lessons to take with us.
-Submitted by: Christie Rodriguez, an education specialist, who has a Masters Degree in Autism and is a certified Transition Specialist.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.