I know, it’s not Autism Awareness Month- that’s in April. However, when you are a Momma of two boys with autism,  or a Special Education Teacher, you share Autism Acceptance ALL YEAR LONG! (If you were standing by me right now, we would totally be high fiving.)

One of my very favorite topics to read about and talk about is INCLUSION. Understanding Autism is an important element in Acceptance and Inclusion. First, why does Inclusion matter?

  • The benefits of inclusion for students with and without disabilities have been well researched and well documented.
  • It’s a civil right, protected by Federal law, and the socially just thing to do.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It states that children with disabilities must be educated in the “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE), and to the maximum extent educated with children who are nondisabled.

It’s a school’s job is to prepare ALL students for the real world, and the real world doesn’t have separate neighborhoods, jobs and communities for those with special needs. And acceptance first requires understanding. In April, and the other 11 months of the year.

A true “Least Restrictive Environment” will not be the same for all students across a disability category. This is not a one size fits all concept. And for this to be successful ALL teachers must be given necessary resources (including aides, professional development, paid planning time and more!) When teachers are failed to be supported, students fail. It’s not fair for either group.

In my experience as a mother of two boys with autism, there’s one group that are pretty amazing at automatically being able to include those with disabilities- that’s the General Education students. I find that the more transparent we are with this group, the exponentially greater meaningful inclusion becomes.

I start out each new school year meeting my boys’ General Education peers. Both boys are in self contained autism classrooms, however, we request they spend the maximum amount of time appropriate in the General Education classroom they would attend if they didn’t have disabilities. (This is different for each boy). During this meeting, I read a book I wrote, sharing information about Greyson or Parker and also sharing about autism. The language is positive, and shows autism as something that makes their brain a little different.

I first starting reading when the boys were in kindergarten, and the story and discussion changes a little based on their age, questions and feedback. I start with asking how many people have heard the word “autism”, and ask them what they know about it. We talk about what it feels like to be included, and what it feels like to be left out.

My oldest is now in 5th grade, and these experiences in the General Education classrooms have been some of my favorite days on earth. I’ve found that differences are less scary when they are shared openly. It’s my hope that our story helps all students recognize that their own differences are something to celebrate too. Here’s a version of the book I share. Feel free to share this video with your people too.

 

The Autism Helper has an interactive and adaptable Autism Awareness Unit that I highly recommend. If you are a parent, a Special Education Teacher, or a General Education teacher wanting to educate others on autism- grab yourself a copy. Now you can promote acceptance and inclusion without having to worry about what materials you should use.

I am VERY (very!) picky when it comes to how autism is presented. Our students with autism want understanding, not charity or pity. This unit does the trick. It includes:
– lesson recommendations
– book recommendations
– 3 levels of autism fact sheets (1 for prek – 2nd grade; 1 for 3rd – 5th grade; and 1 for 6th – 8th grade)
– How to be a Friend to Someone with Autism Sheet
– Sensory Facts Sheet
– 3 question worksheets (Know, Want to Know, Learned, comprehension, inclusion questions)
– Puzzle Piece Art Activity
– 20 Discussion Prompts
– 23 interactive true/false boards

You don’t even need to wait for April to promote true understanding and ACCEPTANCE.

 

Chrissy Kelly

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