Realizing Grades Aren't Everything as a Student With Autism

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I struggled in school every single day. When I misunderstood something, I was told to ask for help. Yet when I did ask for help, I was told I was fine and I should stop worrying so much. Had I received my autism spectrum diagnosis when I was first assessed in sixth grade, I may not have struggled for the following four years until my official diagnosis in tenth grade. However, my diagnosis was originally dismissed, and instead I was seen as this anxious perfectionist who needed to learn how to relax more. But I couldn’t relax. I was still struggling. I was still misunderstanding things. I wasn’t misunderstanding just the material, but I also totally missed the bigger concept of learning how to learn.

When I was growing up, I didn’t strive to get all As simply because I felt I could achieve them; I did it because I thought I was supposed to get them. This came at a price: many, many meltdowns. And although my parents tried to explain to me it was okay to get lower grades as long as I was trying my best, I still thought that “trying my best” meant getting an A. Because that’s how people received awards and recognition. I hadn’t received any awards for my grades yet, so I thought I must not be doing my best. I still remember the awards ceremony and seeing my classmates getting awards. I would listen for my name, but I would never hear it. When I finally did receive an award such as honor roll, I wondered how I would ever keep up with the grades.

I realize now that awards aren’t always everything, and I understand that “trying my best” doesn’t always mean getting an A. At the same time, I am still trying to find that balance between “trying my best” and “perfectionism.” But kids are impressionable, and I don’t think it helps that schools give better and better awards to those with higher and higher grades. It’s great to acknowledge students, but make sure you are acknowledging them for the effort they put into trying to do their work, not just their ability to do it.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected moment with a teacher, parent or student during your (or your loved one’s) school year. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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3 Tips for Living With a Roommate Who Has Autism

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You are probably going to have to have roommates sooner or later. If you’re wondering “What do I do if one of my roommates has autism?” — these tips may help you!

If you have videos you’d like to see made, please send me your ideas at [email protected].

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Restaurant Owner Has Strong Message for Patrons Who Disrespected Autistic Waiter

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Grenache restaurant in Manchester, England, wrote a “strongly worded” message on its Facebook page on Thursday, March 3, after a group of patrons made rude remarks about one of their employees, Andy Foster, who has autism.

Mike Jennings, the owner of Grenache, told the Manchester Evening News the customers refused Foster’s service, and instead asked what was “wrong” with him and why Jennings would employ him.

Citing the incident as “totally unacceptable,” Jennings wrote, “We do not discriminate. If you do… Then please do not book a table at Grenache.”

Thoughts on an incident which occurred last night….Totally unacceptable.Strongly worded but we need to get our point across.#equalopportunities

Posted by Grenache Restaurant on Thursday, March 3, 2016

Foster, who is also a registered caregiver to his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, started working at the restaurant three weeks ago, reported The Independent.

“In our eyes nobody should be discriminated in any industry and we feel that sometimes you’re served by people and you have no idea anything about that person,” Jennings told the Manchester Evening News. “You shouldn’t have the right to judge that person or treat them any differently.”

“I try not to take it personally because it has happened so many times in the past, I have just got used to it,” Foster added. ”I’ve been in this situation a few times in the past on a reasonably regular basis and I’ve always felt that it was my fault and I needed to apologize. And with Karen’s and Mike’s support they have shown me that that is not the case. Mike and Kaz have been so supportive saying it’s not my fault. I shouldn’t be treated different to any other member of staff.”

Read Grenache’s response in its entirety below:

Thoughts on an incident which occurred last night….
Totally unacceptable.
Strongly worded but we need to get our point across.
#‎equalopportunities

Today was spent rebuilding the confidence of one of our team, after being disrespected by a table dining with us last night.

‘What is wrong with him?’ and ‘Why would you give him a job?’ they asked…

Here at Grenache, we employ staff based on experience, knowledge and passion for the job…. NOT the colour of their skin, or the way they look, how many tattoos they have, their dress size, religious beliefs or illness. We do not discriminate!

If you DO…. Then please do not book a table at Grenache. You do not deserve our team, effort or RESPECT!

#teamGrenache #equalopportunities #fairrightstojobs #respect

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To the Parents of Children With Autism: I See You

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To the parents out there who spend their weeks consciously trying to attend to their child’s needs (special or otherwise) and still feel like at the end of the week it’s not enough – I see you.

To the parents who cut their children’s sandwiches up in specific ways and serve them on certain plates and pick out all the peas or only serve white food on Wednesdays – I see you.

To the parents who cut off tags, shop for non-scratchy shirts, buy four different pairs of shoes in the wish that one will help their child feel comfortable – I see you.

To the parents who throw their hands up in the air in utter desperation and frustration because you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and nothing seems to be helping – I see you.

To the parents who attend meeting after meeting, appointment after appointment, trying to make more sense of their child’s depth of need – I see you.

To the parent who will sleep on the tile floor all night long and use a towel for a blanket so their child will sleep in their own bed and not be awake all night long – I see you.

To the parents who actively advocate and spread education and awareness in the vain hope their child may feel a little less segregated from the rest – I see you.

To the parents who feel isolated and alone but also daunted at the prospect of friendships – I see you.

To the parents who carry guilt because they can’t give their children equal attention – I see you.

To the parents afraid a label may place limitations on their child – I see you.

To the couples who are trying to scratch out chunks of time for themselves so they can identify as more than mother and father, but often feel like it’s a fruitless exercise – I see you.

I see you all. You are not alone. It is hard and you are doing such a wonderful job by your children. They may not recognize it now or even for a few years, but they will and they will be so thankful and proud. You never ever once gave up on them.

And finally:

To the child with autism who may feel lost in a world that is overwhelming and confusing – I see you, and believe me when I say you are loved and supported and your world will gradually make more sense one day because we live in a world slowly beginning to embrace the beauty of neuro-diversity, and you have so much to teach it.

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Why I’m Proud My Autistic Son Said ‘No’ Today

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I’m so very proud of my son today.

He had an outing planned with a local Scouts group; it was to be the first time he would go on a trip with them, and he was excited but also anxious.

What would the other kids talk about? 

Would he have fun? 

Would they hold his hand on the roads on the way there? 

Would he be bored? 

Last night he had a bad attack of nerves but soldiered through, and woke up this morning indecisive as to whether he wanted to go or not.

We had breakfast and got dressed while he continued changing his mind back and forth. I said whatever he chose was fine and that I was proud of him for trying something new.

It became time to put his coat and hat on, and then he became distressed and announced firmly that no, he was not going.

And I am proud of him! 

We spoke about why it’s important to have been able to say he is not comfortable going, how it would have been worse to go and internalize the ensuing meltdown that occurred.

For a child to have that option, to choose whether to do something or not can mean so much. It can promote independence and freedom of thought, preference and strength of character. It’s not about upsetting others; it’s about being strong enough to care for themselves.

Was I disappointed he didn’t go? 

No.

Would it matter if I was? 

No.

It’s not about me; it’s about how he feels.

My son asked me just now after I read out what I had written, am I still proud of him? 

I replied, “Of course, it takes a strong person to admit something is not right for them, to not go with the flow because it’s ‘easier’ not to say anything.”

Proud doesn’t even cover it.

Too many times I’ve read despairing posts on Facebook:

1. Why won’t my child go to school? 

2. Why won’t they wear this outfit? 

3. Why are they so picky with food? 

My answers would be:

1. Something may not be going well at school and they don’t know how to tell you. Yes, your child’s school maybe “fully inclusive” with a million plans in place, but something is still not working for them. It may be too loud, too crowded or just may not be the right place.

2. This may be sensory issues. The texture of the fabric may overheat them and make them uncomfortable; it may even prove painful. Let your child pick clothes with you, feel the textures, and compare wool, cotton and corduroy. See what they like. If that means they go out dressed in a fancy dress occasionally because it feels best, is that such a bad thing? They are children once only; applaud and encourage their individuality.

3. The feel of the food in their mouth may feel repulsive, provoking the gag reflex. Would you want to eat something that tasted and indeed felt disgusting? I don’t think so. Ask your child’s doctor about vitamin options. Maybe blend fruit smoothies together to encourage a good diet.

For us, it’s not about having a compliant child; it’s about having a happy child who feels confident enough to change his mind occasionally. So what if you had planned a coffee with a friend while your child was out? Invite the friend over, get out some sensory play and relax!

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When I Write About Parenting a Child With Autism for the Mainstream Media

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I’m not entirely sure why I write about my personal experiences parenting a child with autism for the mainstream media – mostly I hope my own experiences may help someone else on their autism journey – and they won’t stumble through as I had done in the early days. Parenting is challenging, joyful, frustrating, heart-wrenching and rewarding all jumbled together. Making those experiences heard is also an important step toward wider acceptance of autism in the community at large.  

But what I’m never quite prepared for are the letters I get whenever I publish something about autism in the mainstream press.

Here are a few responses that never fail to happen:

1.  Someone writes to tell me vaccines cause autism.  

The study that kicked off this speculation was proven to rely on falsified data, and the author had financial motives for making up his findings. The journal retracted the study years ago. If that’s not enough to placate, there have been dozens of significant studies trying to establish such a link just in case, and all of them came to the same conclusion: there’s no relationship between autism and childhood vaccinations. End of.

2.  Someone writes to tell me they have the “cure” for autism.

The people who send me these kinds of letters are either snake oil salesmen preying on parents purely for monetary gain but also people who really think they’ve single handedly stumbled on the “cure.” In either case, save your breath. There’s no known “cure” for autism. Yes, many studies have shown there are some excellent therapies (behavior, speech, occupational, sensory, drug, diet) that may help enhance certain abilities or address certain challenges in some individuals with autism.

But we’ll all be better off if we stop seeing the individual with autism as “sick” or “broken” and in need of a “cure,” and instead provide them with the supports they need to thrive in the community.

3.  Someone writes to tell me I’ve caused my son’s autism.  

Yes, really. I like to call them jackasses, but I believe other journalists call them trolls. Turns out, trolls don’t just save their bullsh*t for political commentators but share their misery with parenting columnists too.  

I’ve been told my son has autism because: I fed him formula as a baby (no), I was on anti-depressants while pregnant (nope), I fed him genetically engineered foods (sigh) and, of course, because I had him vaccinated (of course I did – read #1). One special jackass told me it was karma.

4. Someone offers me money. 

See — it’s not all bad. Strangers also offer to send me money to help me parent my son with autism. It’s just the sweetest gesture and my faith in humanity is always restored by these letters. I thank them but always kindly decline and recommend they give to a local autism charity instead. There are many autism families that are in far greater need than myself (raising a child is expensive – raising a child with autism is astronomical) and the frontline autism charities are the best at putting resources where they are needed most.  

5.  Someone offers my son gifts.

Many, many readers want to send my son gifts. It happens every time I write. It is such a beautiful gesture, and I am touched by every offer. But again – for reasons of protecting privacy and because my son is already spoiled rotten, I always say no. Again, I recommend they donate to an autism organization, and I think many of them actually do this.

People, it turns out, can be very kind.

I did accept one time: when the city transportation office offered a tour of the local bus facilities after a story about how much my son loves city buses (he memorizes the routes and “articulated bus” was one of his first toddler phrases). They gave us a half-day tour and a goodie basket full of bus-related items. My son still talks about it today.

None of these responses ever stop me from writing. In fact, the first few make it clear how badly I need to keep writing to combat the misinformation that’s still floating around out there. But the best news? The kind gestures always outnumber the jackasses.

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