It’s only fitting that I am writing this blog on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day.
Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD is a complex developmental condition that results in difficulty with social communication as well as fixed interests, repetitive behaviors, and sometimes, hypo or hypersensitivity to smells, sounds or textures. These patterns impact how students with autism learn in school, their ability to develop friendships, process the multi-sensory environment around them and indeed, to advocate for themselves.
Our school community has made a big leap forward this year in its understanding and embracing of neurodiversity and learning differences driven collaboratively by our amazing Parent Teacher Association and the inclusion department at the school. However, even in a school like ours which is mission-driven, has a progressive education model, inclusionary classroom practices, and innovative pedagogical practices to enhance student experiences, there is always work to be done in fostering understanding of the needs of students with a variety of backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles.
This school year has marked many significant events such as a panel discussion arranged in concert with the school’s Parent Teacher Association and in-class discussions with middle school and high school students. It seems that we have also managed to redefine diversity somewhere along the way as well. My colleague Dr. Amoy Hugh Pennie, Director of Inclusion and Learning Support, recently wrote a piece about neurodiversity and fairness titled That’s Not Fair!
This month, we are busy planning presentations and experiential activities with parents through the school’s Parent Teacher Association and our primary students in order to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism. We have centered our efforts around constructing experiences to help people step into the shoes of people with autism and how they make sense of the environment around them.
The basic premise here is that all students need help some of the time in school. While some students need help some of the time, others need more and still others need help almost all of the time. Within inclusive classrooms, all children have opportunities to interact, work with and learn from their peers. Furthermore, there are many important benefits to all of the students in an inclusive classroom. The learning of helping behaviors and working together with others who have learning differences are just two of these benefits. Within an inclusive learning environment, students with autism have opportunities to learn social skills through interaction and watching their peers’ behavior.
Activities presented will be designed around perceptual differences and the challenges that people with ASD face on a daily basis. We trust that these activities will result in the advancement of the whole school’s mission to value diversity of all types.
Learn more about World Autism Awareness Day here.