Autism and Inclusion
This year's theme for World Autism Day is "Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a post-pandemic world." It's such an important topic, particularly because we see autism as a challenge and they rarely highlight the advantages in various institutions. I began working in compulsory education in a secondary school at the beginning of the Millenium as a Learning Support Assistant where I worked with pupils registered with special needs. From the onset in that school and in future schools and colleges I've worked in, I remarked at the high intelligence many of the autistic pupils portrayed. However, their strengths went uncelebrated. Schools focused on ensuring that mainstream pupils' exam grades put the school in good stead. Until the world unlearns to define what "normal" is, we will be forever fighting for inclusion for all people.
As a writing coach, I've mentored autistic students with outstanding creative writing abilities. Many of them have an excellent memory, and it amazed me at the knowledge they maintained in English Language and Literature. One trait of autistic people is attention to detail and the ability to identify errors. One of my students so meticulous in writing her book fascinated me at her level of concentration and imagination. If we can balance their strengths with their weakness, we will be more appreciative of their personality types. Students with this diagnosis can be gifted in reading at a very young age whilst others withdrawn and cannot empathize or socialize with others. In a school where pupils must be quiet and allow only the teacher to speak, we would see an autistic child who may display signs of hyperactivity as a challenge, but as I mentioned above we need to redefine normal behaviour and accept each other's differences.
I celebrate Autistic Pride Day because the students I have worked with have been an inspiration to me, their thought pattern to understand the world around them is their uniqueness. As many of them like myself prefer to write than speak, I see they can be empathetic in this way. It is through books and reading that we empathize with others, as we celebrated empathy day last Thursday. Let us now learn to empathize with people who differ from ourselves, this is the way towards inclusion.
Next week's blog shares more on inclusion....