A showcase of undergraduate assessment items, or, the wild ramblings of a lunatic.....either one works.
My recent journey of learning about autism spectrum disorders has so far been a brief but very busy and enlightening one. In the space of a few months, I have gained so much insight into what autism actually means, and more importantly, what it means for those that personally live with it on a daily basis.
While it is predominantly a neurological disorder, autism has so much more meaning with regards to inclusion and acceptance in our society. Misunderstanding of this disorder has led to ignorance and seclusion in the past, yet thankfully people with autism are now being recognised are worthy members of our society, and measures are being taken to better understand and provide for them. The new attitudes of integration and inclusion are small consolation for many previously misunderstood individuals, and yet they offer so much hope for the future.
As a parent of a child with high-functioning autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome, the awareness gained has been extremely valuable. My child and I have lived with this condition for twelve years, and yet I never truly understood what it meant, nor how to really help my child. Understanding begins with knowledge, and this course has since helped to define the many facets of this condition. The diagnosis characteristics provided by DSM-IV and DSM-V (Kaufmann, 2012) have clarified exactly what this condition consists of, to define it separately from other intellectual disabilities which I found caused confusion in the past. Further information regarding the differences of cognition, sensory issues, social skills and language have helped to make things so much clearer. The personal viewpoints provided from individuals living with autism have also been immensley valuable to finally encourage a sense of empathy and understanding. Finally now I have an insight into why my son does and says the things he does, which in the past caused confusion and frustration for both of us. However now that I have a better grasp on his differences and can make sense of the past, I am now able to concentrate more on his future, and find ways to help him successfully adapt and survive throughout school and life in general.
Engaging with this assessment task has been a wonderful experience, both as a parent and as a future educator. With the basic knowledge of the characteristics of autism spectrum disorders, I was able to define aspects of my son’s condition, while he willingly acted as my case study. I was able to make better sense of issues identified by his teachers that were never truly understood, such as his lessened engagement with lessons despite his apparent intelligence. While I had also witnessed his negative personal views at times, I had not realised the extent to which he used these comments on himself. This segment of the task enabled us to work together to find ways to reinforce a more positive self-view for him, and find an ‘antidote’ to his negativity. Overall, we were able to work together to find and try methods that had the potential to help him, and hopefully create a better understanding between us of what he is experiencing.
As a future educator, it is my hope that this understanding and endeavour for empathy will benefit future prospective students. By having a better appreciation of autistic spectrum disorders, I will be better placed to work with all of my students, and find pedagogical methods that work for all of them. While autism is a unique disorder that affects each and every student differently, the basic understanding of what defines this condition will go a long way towards helping even one just child in my class. By taking an empathetic stance towards the student-centred approach of teaching, there will hopefully be less chance of leaving anyone behind academically or socially.
I note with some pleasure, the point made by Gill (2003) to change our attitude from looking at deficits to accepting differences, which is such a deceptively simple change in perspective. By concentrating on strengths instead of weaknesses, we can hopefully create a stronger bridge of inclusion between individuals with autism and their neurotypical neighbours, with all being worthy of inclusion, attention and assistance. In a predominantly neurotypical world where we apparently encourage uniqueness and difference, autism can be thought of as differently-abled rather than disabled, and as another aspect of humanity that needs to be acknowledged as such, we can then concentrate on moving forwards together, working towards a successful future for all, regardless of ability or disability.
I do realise that studying this course on Autistic Spectrum Disorders is only the beginning of my journey towards understanding, but it has been an enjoyable education so far. My biggest challenge will be putting it all into practice, converting the knowledge gained into working examples of assistance, as research-based, concrete ways to successfully help students in need. I am certain too, that as more research appears there will definitely be far more to learn, which will continue to shine a clear light on autism. This light will hopefully lead the way to further understanding, and guide educators and parents on future work to be done to bridge the gap between those with special needs and the remainder of society. I look forward to this journey, and know that the only direction we can go is forward to achieve success as a global society of people working together for the good of all.