Another article in our series of things NTs say about Autistics. Tikatia Morris is the marketing director at NeuroDiversity Consulting LLC. Learn more here and check out the intro to the series as well as our article on discipline.
"But he's so smart!"
"Are you sure she isn't just faking it?"
"He doesn't look autistic."
"Aspergers...that's just a little socially awkward."
By: Tikatia Morris
In 2008, radio show host, Michael Savage had this to say about autism:
"fraud, a racket. ... I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot."
Here is how one adult with autism described how it feels when a person doesn't believe in the diagnosis:
"As if living your whole life incapable of being normal no matter how much effort you put in isn't bad enough, there are people that try to convince you that the condition you're diagnosed with doesn't exist and that you're just a social failure."
Autism is, by definition, a spectrum disorder. Individuals with autism have strengths and weaknesses, just the same as their neurotypical counterparts. Some individuals have excellent verbal skills, are sociable, and enjoy being around other people regularly. This does not invalidate their diagnosis. This simply means that they have those skills as a strength.
The DSM-IV lists 5 separate diagnoses under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders. These are: Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (including Atypical Autism), Rett's Disorder, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Each includes it's own specific diagnostic criteria and each, while under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder, is unique unto itself as well. Since there are 5 differing disorders under this one umbrella, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume that each disorder differs from the others not only in diagnostic criteria, but also in severity of symptoms; hence the term Autism Spectrum Disorder.
As a parent, I've often encountered comments like those quoted above from not only neurotypical strangers, friends, and family, but also from professionals such as my son's teachers. When he "perfoms" well in a school setting (mostly due to his overall anxiety from being around that many people) I find myself having to prove his diagnosis to the professionals within that school. They often end up trying to remove services claiming that he doesn't need them even when he's obviously (to me anyway) performing so well because those services are in place.
In our personal world, we've come against opposition from friends, and family members alike. The frustration that ensues as a parent having to prove my son's diagnosis is immeasurable, and I'm sure that my son, were he able to explain it, would say that he is not faking his interpretations of his surroundings, nor is he simply misbehaving for the sake of attention or because he's just being a putz, as Savage claims about those on the spectrum.
Even parents of autistics can fall prey to disbelief. As Jim Sinclair point out in his essay, “Don’t Mourn for Us”, parents begin on a path of either love and support or rejection the moment of their child’s diagnosis. Sinclair makes the distinction that the source of parents’ grief at an autism diagnosis has, “NOTHING to do with autism, it regards the inability to have the ‘expected relationship’ with their child." When parents continue to misplace this grief onto their child, avowing to wipe this ‘abomination’ off of the face of the earth, they are also stating that their, “greatest wish is that one day [autistics] will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces."
When parents finally come to terms with their child's diagnosis, and accept that child for who he or she is, there is still yet another level in our disbelief pyramid. There are then the parents within each group of diagnosis who may have the tendency to belittle another child's diagnosis simply because that child may present the disorder differently from their own child. For example a parent whose child is nonverbal may scoff at a child who is capable of speech that they don't have "real" autism. Parents of children who have these milder versions of autism may feel that they don't fit in with the parents of neurotypical kids, but that they also don't have the support of other parents within the autism community.
A major issue regarding autism is a lack of understanding and education, both on the parent and caregiver parts as well as on that of the neurotypical community at large. The changes proposed in the DSM-V may to help alleviate some of the skepticism and misunderstanding of autism spectrum disorders. The proposal is such that those five separate diagnoses will become one single diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder with three distinct levels of severity. There is still a lot of debate within the autism community as to whether this proposition will end with positive results or negative.
In conclusion, educate yourself, your families and your communities; and as the saying goes:
"When you meet one autistic person, you've met one autistic person."
Many parents of children with spectrum disorders spend years arguing with their local schools to demand a learning environment that will be ideal for their child. They fight, they push, they lobby, and sometimes they even win; but the majority of parents with children on the spectrum soon realize that a public school setting just isn't ideal for their children.
The homeschooling movement has been sweeping the nation, especially in the past 10 years. Parents are tired of the "one size fits all" mentality that most public school systems have to offer. They don't see their children thriving and see our nation's scores as a whole plummeting within our world society. And so, many are turning to homeschooling.
There are many reasons why the average parent may turn to homeschooling for their children. This article's purpose is to focus primarily on the reasons why a parent of a child on the spectrum would homeschool their child.
Distraction and Noise
Let's face it, schools are loud. With anywhere from 20 to 35 children per classroom with the national average for elementary schools being roughly 25-27. For the average kid a class of that size can be distracting at best, for a child on the spectrum just being in the same room as that many people can make it impossible for them to focus. When you add in the noise of 27 pencils scratching, the occasional cough, ceiling fans or that buzzing noise from the florescent lighting, this becomes the grounds for a major sensory overload. Homeschooling parents have the ability to create a peaceful and quiet learning environment, and unless you're the Duggars, chances are you won't have 20 kids in your homeschool classroom. The ability to create an environment that is sensory friendly to a child with sensitivities is a huge bonus to homeschooling.
Movement and Sensory Breaks
Many autistic kids like to move. They don't want to sit at a desk in a classroom and "focus." Even the highest functioning ASD kids, love to fidget. Schools often tend to frown upon walking around the classroom, or taking a "spinning" break. Even with a good IEP, a child with autism may not be getting enough sensory breaks throughout their day. When parents of ASD kids homeschool, they have the ability to work closely with their children's therapists to create a sensory diet that will provide an optimal learning environment for their children. Spelling can be learned at the playground while swinging, Math can be covered while the child is spinning in the backyard, and there are plenty of quiet dark places to get a moment of peace when it is warranted.
The biggest concern many parents and professionals alike bring up when concerned with homeschooling is the socialization question. Often this can be the reason why a parent will choose a public school over homeschooling. They look at their spectrum kid and think, "my child needs so much help socializing, that being in school around that many kids all day must be what is best for him." When it comes to socialization, it's not the quantity that matters, but the quality. Parents of autistic kids know that their child will adapt much better to a one-on-one social experience than one within a group. Homeschooling gives the parent freedom to plan social experiences for their children during times when their child is at his or her best, they have the ability to focus on specific socialization goals in their timing. Children thrive in this environment because they are not bombarded with tons of people around them all day, they are able to adjust to social engagements easier.
Many spectrum kids have their "thing." That one subject that they just love. Then they have those other things that they just hate. You may see an autistic child who thrives in math, but still can't read at age 8. Homeschooling allows the parent to let their children soar in the subjects that they thrive in, while allowing time for extra help in those areas where they struggle. Even neurotypical children tend to excel in certain areas and struggle in others, why just because children are a certain age, must they study what is "age appropriate" for that age, when their understanding may be far beyond that. Homeschooling is one of the only educational choices out there that allows for a truly individualized learning experience.
As seen above, homeschooling offers a plethora of adjustments that can be individualized to meet your spectrum child's needs. This is just the first in a series of articles pertaining to homeschooling, please check back in soon for more posts.