Opinion: Autism crisis in North Country, says Autism Initiative director
To the Editor:
There is a crisis affecting people with autism in our local schools and communities. People who interact regularly with people with autism often have little or no information to guide them.This is a crisis because it leads to inappropriate reactions when the behavior of people with autism doesn’t comply with what is considered to be “normal.” It leads to punishment rather than effective handling of behavioral issues. Misunderstandings result in trauma for people with autism, and escalation rather than de-escalation of issues.
How do I know this is a crisis?
I talk with parents of children with autism. Over a few days, I collected 27 stories from North Country parents of children with autism whose child had been punished in a local school due to misunderstandings that could have been avoided.
Almost unanimously, I hear horror stories of what children with autism and their families experience simply because people who interact with them regularly don’t have fundamental information about the unique characteristics of many people with autism.
For instance, some people with autism need to look away from you when you speak in order to focus on what you are saying. This is one of ‘20 Tips’ we have compiled. Each describes something unique to many people with autism that we can’t be expected to know unless we are informed of it.
Another of our ‘20 tips’ is that some people with autism are petrified of physical contact so a well-intended pat on the back can cause a tantrum. Or a sound you and I might hardly notice can be deafening to some people with autism.
There is something you can do about it. Inquire about our two-hour “Discussion Session.” This includes a focus on ‘20 Tips,’ brief videos of people with autism explaining what their lives are like, and interesting table-top discussions. We do not charge for our services and resources, and none of us is paid any kind of stipend.
This two-hour “Discussion Session” can be conducted with an entire staff, or with as few as ten people at a time. It can be held remotely or in-person. It is for school personnel, community organizations, or first responders. I can be reached at [email protected]. For free resources check out our website: learningcentered.org
Don Mesibov, Director
Institute for Learning Centered Education Autism Initiative