I first learned about autism my first year of teaching. At that time autism wasn’t recognized as a disability in the state of Texas. I had a student who stood out from the others in my special education classroom with his odd behaviors. I searched for answers on how to help this young student because none of my training had prepared me for such a student. As I searched for new knowledge I learned about a new breed of students with disabilities who were falling in a category of “autistic like”. The only written article on this puzzling condition at the time was in the Parade magazine. Further studies revealed that these children were identified as having childhood schizophrenia and the methods for teaching them were strategies used for teaching students with emotional disturbance so I took an advanced course of study to learn these new strategies.
As I gained more knowledge and experience in the field of autism I felt a familiarity with the increasing number of children I began to meet. As we later learned, my sister Sharon who had been diagnosed with mental retardation, was finally diagnosed with autism. I have spent most of my life and all my career surrounded by so many intriguing people with this puzzling condition called autism. It is true, if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. Like every other person you encounter, each person with autism is a unique individual with their own gifts, quirks and dreams for life.
My life has been so blessed by the many people with autism I have met and continue to grow through life with. As important as it is to make others aware about autism, it is equally important to help those with autism understand what autism is and how it affects them. One of my favorite books that I have shared to help bring about autism awareness for those with and without autism is Different Life Me by Jennifer Elder. I created this social narrative, What is Autism , for some of the self-advocates I have worked with to help them develop a better understanding of autism.