April is both Autism Awareness Month as well as Child-Abuse Prevention Month. Both of these concern the welfare of children and deserve our attention whether they affect us directly or not. As a father and educator, I have met a number of children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism. As I write this posting, I know I need to teach my own children more about the friends they have who are affected by autism, though we have had discussions about the need to include people with differences in our lives rather than separate from them.
The Autism Speaks site explains that, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” The site goes on to explain that “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years.” The CDC also cites statistics to show that autism is diagnosed more commonly in boys than in girls. To learn more about autism, a couple of key Web sites include the one for Autism Speaks and the Autism Society.
With regard to child-abuse prevention, this topic is more relevant than ever, given our needed increase in sensitivity to children bullying other children. One reason bullying exists is because kids are abused, either physically or psychologically by the adults in their lives. A new book is coming out that has an interesting approach to making us all more sensitive to the subject. Written by Magdalena Gómez and María Luisa Arroyo, Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions and Catharsis (Skyhorse Publishing, May 2012) is an anthology of stories, poems, and plays that help illuminate the experience for children, from an inter-generational and multicultural perspective.
Please share your thoughts and suggestions about these topics by posting a comment whenever you wish.
I have been teaching children with special needs for over 20 years, mostly 1:1. I also tutor kids who simply need some help with essay skills, reading and writing. I am constantly surprised and amazed at how resilient these kids are in the face of bullying, teasing, academic failure and coping with being ‘different’ – whether it’s a speech impediment, poor handwriting, or social disability. Once they know I understand what’s happening and why, and I offer them a program that will improve their situation/skills, they usually throw themselves into it with gusto. Kids who are different need encouragement to take hold of their situation, trust in the assistance provided and believe that they have some power for change in their lives. It’s a humbling thing for me to witness. And when they tell me I don’t understand, I can say unequivocally that I in fact do understand, because I struggled myself with academic and social problems in my schooling, having lived in three different countries and attended 11 schools. I had a tutor once and she gave me more than just skills. She gave me compassion, and belief in my worth as a human being, and that has stayed with me my whole life. What I do now is to honour that kindness and belief by passing it on to my students. When we empower them to see the situation as it really is, that bullies are often victims of bullying and not superior, that learning problems are often just a different learning style and way of perceiving the world, then we give them a powerful tool for life.