We are all humans, born in the same world. We all have a prominent cornerstone in common. But no one of us is the same; we are all made unique, with different talents, interests, fondness, behaviors, and no one of us is living a similar life with the same impressions and perceptions. There is this big problem that people start separating the society in “normal and absurd.”
People are even seen as weird when they dress differently or do not fit in the frame of society. So now start thinking about humans sitting in a wheelchair, talking with themselves, beginning to scream in public, and getting nervous around other people. Automatically they get excluded from society because they cannot fit in and behave incorrectly.
Every single day I work with these children: children who have a disability and challenging behavior. Before I started to work in the school with children with special needs, I didn’t know much about it. But for me, it was always a mystery how human beings could be so mean and look at them as something with less worth. In some cultural areas, children born with disabilities are even seen as a punishment of God. What I can say for sure is that working with those people is a big honor for me because it’s maybe hard to imagine, but they can teach you so many things, even if some children cannot talk at all. For me, it’s clear that the time has come that we have to learn more about disabilities and problematic behaviors, so there is no need anymore to watch at people with a critical gaze.
That’s why I would like to share my thoughts and knowledge from the last ten months, and especially Autism is a field where many new perspectives crossed my mind.
When I was thinking about Autism, I was thinking about brilliant people, especially in one field or topic like mathematics. But then I came into a classroom with children hurting themselves, screaming, spitting, scratching, throwing things, and it was different than my way of thinking. There was a lot of fear inside of me. Because working with children with an autism spectrum disorder can be overextending, primarily when you never studied it or have no experience. All of them have their behaviors, and even when most of them cannot speak, they can show what they want.
Behavior is a form of communication, and often it is essential to observe concretely to know which situation led to challenging behavior, for example. Because everyone has a reason for their behavior, every behavior has a function. But one behavior can have different functions, and other behaviors can have the same function. So mostly, it is all about teaching to control and prevent challenging behaviors.
Also, a fascinating fact is that none of them has an attention span that lasts longer than 5 minutes with breaks in between (otherwise, it’s like 45 seconds). In my classroom, they came up with the idea to reward the children with things they grave a lot like a ball to jump on or just water to drink. For me, it is in general impressive which knowledge, empathy, good ideas, and love the teachers have.
In the book “Thinking in Pictures. My life with autism”, the author Temple Grandin gives an insight into her struggles and personal stories. Reading her book made me think about even more questions. How do those people feel? Do they know that they are different? Do they know that in society, there are some borders for things that you cannot do, like smelling randomly on people? Are they questioning their worth sometimes? Are they even asking anything? In the book, it is said, “Temple does not romanticize autism, nor does she downplay how much her autism has cut her off from the social whirl, the pleasures, the rewards, the companionships, that for the rest of us may define much of life.”
Also, she says that some simple emotions she cannot feel, for example, by looking at the mountains. She can say that they are pretty, but they don’t give her the special feeling that other people seem to have like this feeling of enjoying. So, Autism is a disorder of interiority. But it had been a medical dogma for 40 years that there is no inside, no inner life in the autistic.
But when you take a look at my students, you can see how they react to the words of the teachers, they are not made of stone, they can cry, they can laugh, and they can feel, maybe even more than we can because they are embossed by the changes of the weather, the moon, food changes, just every little change they can recognize or at least their body can and their behavior will be different.
To answer the question of worth, we can also take a look at her book where a non-autistic guy describes the struggles of Temple Grandin: “She is struggling for a deeper understanding of autism, struggling not least to understand that odd species-us-and to define her worth, her role, in a world that is not autistic.”
Maybe it’s just us being weird in their eyes. Everyone is different, but we are all human beings and should love each other for what we are and who we are. Working with low-functioning autistic children and youth can be difficult but what I especially learned in the last weeks is that you must face it with humor: “All right, this child is licking the walls again, and yeah, the other one is throwing something out of the window, so its time for a little walk outside to take it back, and oh, one of the children was biting again but isn’t it nice to have some color on the skin and also those bleeding scratches they will leave beautiful scars so I always have something with me where I can remember my time in Macedonia”.
Just because they are different doesn’t mean that they have less worth. In some things like socially acceptable behavior, they may be not so good, but in coming up with crazy ideas, making you laugh, eating nonstop, and giving love, they are better than most people without Autism.