An Open Letter to a Child With Autism, From a Teacher

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Dear ________,

You may not know it, but you are on my mind more than you may think.  I think about you all the time. I see you. I want to help. I try to honor your inner landscape and intervene, not overpower. I try to talk with you, not at you. That’s why I do what I do; for you, with you, and with the others who care so much about you. Just like I do.

What do I do with you? I work to create a breadcrumb trail for you to follow, each and every day. Even if it seems unnecessary or confusing. Even if the intervention is “repetitive” or “not working”. I eagerly count each success and fiercely guard each disappointment I feel, so that you don’t get discouraged when things are hard. I’m aware of your attempts to reach out, to learn, to understand, and to make sense of the world around you. I’m aware that it can be a fun yet scary place, and that it’s hard sometimes to “fit in”. I try to watch out for you and cater to your strengths and preferences, while being mindful of your challenges and dislikes. I cherish our time together and each triumph, each smile, laugh, and word. I relish the unique mindset and skill set you demonstrate, and each opportunity to help you expand your horizons.

That’s why I use a combination of toys and technology, of free play and structured activities, and spontaneous conversation and elicited question and answer sessions, at different times, to help you learn to:

  • Better orient to person/place/time so you can stay “grounded” longer and more frequently and learn to sequence events and anticipate outcomes
  • Develop a sense of humor so that you can take constructive criticism and transition better, and “bounce back” more easily when things don’t go as planned
  • Categorize and group like/unalike objects and pictures and explain why? so that you get “organized in your head” and understand what “a place for everything and everything in its place” really means
  • Manage your stress levels and sensitivity to things like texture, sound, light, changes in routine etc. so that you can communicate your wants/needs and displeasure in a way we can understand and accept, and you can better problem solve how to “talk yourself away from the ledge” and let others know how you feel.

So I make seemingly random comments and suggestions to you and your family. I suggest that you do things you may want or not want to,  like (under supervision!)

  • Spending time playing with other children outside in a playground
  • Spending time reading books/stories about others and their feelings
  • Spending time learning to use specific iPad Apps
  • Spending time completing chores at home
  • Spending time with animals and/or caring for a pet
  • Spending time taking mini-road trips and outings around the neighborhood

I know, I know, you may think I’m pushy. I admit that I’m trying to teach you lots and lots. But I have a secret to share…..you have already taught me so much more than I could ever teach you! Each and every encounter I have with you enriches my life, and makes me realize things about myself, about the world, that I never knew! I also never knew how much patience and love my heart could hold, or how creative I can get with my lesson and daily planner!

Thank you for being you, and for giving me the opportunity to see who you really are. Thank you for trying so hard and for not giving up on me. I won’t give up on you. We’re in this together, and I can’t wait to see what you do next!

Love,
_________

This post originally appeared on Friendship Circle.

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Contestant With Special Needs Is ‘a Smashing Success’ on ‘Wheel of Fortune’

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On Wednesday night’s episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” everyone was on #TeamTrent.

That’s because Trenton “Trent” Girone, from Peoria, Ariz., completely stole the show. Girone is a 21-year-old man with Asperger’s and Tourette syndrome. He’s undergone nine brain surgeries and an open heart surgery, according to ABC. Since he was 2 years old, he’s been a “Wheel of Fortune” mega-fan.

Watch below as Girone appropriately solves the “A Smashing Success” puzzle and then shows off his “Wheel of Fortune” trivia knowledge. It’s no wonder he was trending on Twitter long  all night long.


In the end, Girone didn’t walk away with the big prize. But hey, winning isn’t everything.

“I want to thank all of the contestant staff for taking the time to help me, and would like to thank Pat Sajak for his assistance, as well,” Girone later wrote on the “Wheel of Fortune” website. “I have some physical challenges that they were aware of and they made sure I was safe and comfortable.”

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Dad Gives a Moving Inside Look at Raising a Child With Autism

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Matt Oakes learns from his 3-year-old son, Liam, all the time.

Liam has autism and verbal apraxia, which prevents him from talking. But each day, without even knowing it, he teaches his parents about perseverance, hard work and love. In the video below from Soul Pancake‘s YouTube series, “The Fatherhood Project,” Oakes talks about his relationship with Liam and what he thinks it means to be a good dad.

“Every day getting up and struggling from morning until you go to bed at night, that’s heroic. Liam’s my hero. I don’t think we need action heroes anymore,” Oakes says in the seven-minute clip. “We have kids like Liam. They can help us walk through life.”

h/t Autism Speaks

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This Boy's Extraordinary Talent Stunned Experts at the National Dog Show

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When Cory Gould’s mother told director Tim O’Donnell she was bringing her son to the National Dog Show Presented by Purina, O’Donnell had one response.

“What?”

A convention center full of people and dogs seemed like an odd place to bring an 11-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome, O’Donnell thought. So much noise and chaos may make for an uncomfortable setting.

But for Cory this isn’t the case – he has a passion for dogs, and he can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about them. In fact, when Cory is talking about canines, he has less trouble in social situations.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 3.55.21 PM

When Cory’s parents, Heather and Jonathan, realized their son’s fascination and talent, they called O’Donnell and asked if he’d be interested in making a film about Cory. He was.

“For the Love of Dogs,” which screened in April 2014 at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, centers around Cory’s trip to the dog show, but really, O’Donnell says, the 25-minute documentary is about much more. [Update: The full film can now be purchased for viewing here.]

“Autism isn’t easy. It’s hard,” O’Donnell, 30, told The Mighty. “[Cory] and his family work hard every day.”

The director hopes “For the Love of Dogs” will show people the highs and lows of autism, how difficult it can be and how beautiful it can be, too. Maybe, he says, it will raise awareness about the realities of the developmental disorder.

“If you see a kid throwing a tantrum in, say, a grocery store, maybe hold off your judgment,” O’Donnell told The Mighty. “That kid’s been working hard all day and maybe this is just the moment it got to be too much.”

Take a look at the trailer for “For the Love of Dogs” below.

h/t The Boston Herald

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What I Learned From a Little Boy Who Fell Off His Horse

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Last year I began volunteering at a place called We Can Ride. It offers therapeutic horseback riding for people living with disabilities or special needs.

I originally began volunteering there because I loved the idea of being around horses every week and getting to hopefully help some really cool kids learn to ride.

I started in the spring session and immediately realized how amazing the riders truly were. Originally I was worried I wasn’t qualified to work with the kids or help with their riding lessons, but I soon discovered the biggest component of the program was just stepping aside to let the riders truly shine and demonstrate their abilities.

It’s a blessing to get to watch these kids come week after week and master something they were struggling with the week previous or see the smiles on the parents’ faces as their children go trotting around the arena.

One week in particular I was working with a young boy with autism when his horse suddenly spooked. The horse reared, and the woman leading the horse fell over. The boy held on but when the horse came back down he gently fell off the side. We caught him before he hit the ground, but the damage was done. He was completely frightened.

Luckily his mom was there to soothe him. She had ridden as  young girl and was understanding of the situation. She didn’t blame us leaders or even the horse. She simply told the boy that the horse had been frightened and instead subtly implied that the horse’s feelings would be hurt if the boy didn’t get back on and continue riding.

At this point most other parents probably would have cursed, or yelled, or headed for the car, but she didn’t. It took a while, but after enough encouragement the boy got back on the horse and tentatively finished his ride.

The next week the boy came back for another lesson. Shocked, I watched as he confidently mounted the horse and told me, “It wasn’t the horse’s fault last week – he got scared.” And if that wasn’t enough he went on to say, “If I fall again this week, I will just throw my head back and laugh.”

Wow. It was enough for me to realize that the things that throw us off balance every day are actually much smaller than they seem. Maybe we can even laugh our way through them.

This post originally appeared on “that’s so denver” as a part of Carly Reynolds’ “40 days of good news.”

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Dear Friend Whom My Autistic Child Just Rebuffed

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I know.  I saw.  You, friendly person that you are, walked up to my autistic child in public and tried to say hello.  And he got really, really upset with you.  I saw your concern.  Felt your embarrassment.  Knew you never meant to upset him.

When I see you, you ask about him.  When you’ve met him before, you always make a point of speaking directly to him – even when it seems he’s not paying attention.  You’ve even had really positive interactions with him in the past.  You did everything right.  You didn’t go rushing up or speak too loud to him.  You didn’t put your hands on him without being welcomed to do so by him.  You follow me on Facebook, read about the cute things he does, and celebrate his successes.  You’re a good friend and a great cheerleader.  I appreciate you.

And because of that, I don’t want your apology for “upsetting” him.  That’s because you didn’t.  It’s likely several things did, but it wasn’t you.  He was just overwhelmed a bit by the world – new sounds, sights, and experiences.  He was busy trying to process all of those when you happened to innocently walk up and try to interact.  For whatever reason, that’s when his pot boiled over.

callumtackle He wasn’t judging you, disliking you, or even declaring how he feels about you in the future.  He was simply over capacity and expressed it the only way he knows how to – with a big fat “no more right now.”  Only he doesn’t yet have those words.  He isn’t able to convey exactly what was too much.  He meant to say, “I have had enough.”  But it wasn’t you.  It just seemed like it.  And I could tell by your red face that it felt like it too.

So, I’m begging you.  Please don’t slink away and give up on getting to know him.  Please don’t feel that he just doesn’t like you.  Please don’t feel like you did anything wrong.  He may have been overwhelmed emotionally and sensory-wise, but his mind is quick.  He knows the difference between someone who is good to him and someone who is not.  If you continue to gently engage with him when you see him, he’ll learn that you’re not to be feared –and you’ll learn there is nothing to fear from reaching out to him.  Before you know it, you’ll have a little buddy who expands your world – just as you will expand his.

I want you to know that your efforts to engage with my child are beautiful to me.  Too many people are afraid to try – afraid to “upset” him.  Afraid to simply ask what’s the best way to get to know him.  But you?  You put yourself out there and sent a message to our family, to him, and everyone in the immediate area – that he is worth knowing.  Not everyone knows that.  But you do.

And that’s why I want so very badly for him to get to know you.  Because clearly you are worth knowing too.

This post originally appeared on Flappiness Is...

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