COLUMN: More alike than different



I was 10 years old the first time I interacted with a child with special needs.

It was in my mom's classroom, where she would teach children who were dually diagnosed with a cognitive and an emotional impairment on a daily basis and has done so for the past 20 years.

Following in her footsteps, I, too, plan to be a special education teacher one day.

Some people say that it takes a special person to work with individuals who have special needs, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Anyone with a big smile and an open mind will fit the bill just fine.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and, as I discovered, most people aren't exactly sure what Autism Spectrum Disorder is.

There are a lot of negative stereotypes associated with the disorder, but many people are reluctant to name the characteristics that are actually associated with ASD.

As described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals of Mental Disorders, the Autism Spectrum includes a broad range of pervasive developmental disorders including Autism, Asperger's, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

In the most recent reports, the rate of a child being born with ASD has soared to one in 50 children.

Much more common among males than females, characteristics of ASD include impairments in the areas of social interaction and verbal communication and include a tendency of repetitive movements.

Coaching with the Special Olympics for the past two years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with and form friendships with athletes diagnosed with ASD.

Through my experience, I have learned some valuable tips about working with people who have ASD, and I want to share those with you in case you ever have the opportunity to interact with an individual who has autism.

Individuals with ASD, depending on the severity of their diagnosis, might avoid eye contact and become frustrated when verbally spoken to or given directions.

Don't be alarmed by this. They aren't trying to be rude; it's just how their brains work. Many individuals with ASD have a hard time picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues, such as when they are being offensive or rude. Again, they aren't doing this on purpose.

While no two individuals with ASD are the same, using pictures and written language as opposed to speech can be effective, especially when they are given options and are able to make their own decisions, such as what they would like to have for lunch.

Bottom line, the most important things to remember are to be patient and to remember that they're more like you than they are different.

They have the same wants and needs, they desire to be treated with respect, and, even though they can't process things the same way we do, that doesn't mean they deserve to be treated any less than you would treat anyone else.

Treat everyone with respect. After all, I believe that should become the new "r-word"


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