I recently welcomed a new student to my class who is visually challenged. My school services students ages 3 through 22 with a variety of special needs – many with extreme medical and behavior challenges. Visual impairment is not one of the common challenges we face. I work with Adult Transition students so our main goal is providing opportunities for independence and functional life skills.
Navigating the Mazes
Throughout the first weeks of school, this particular student would navigate the mazes of our campus hallways using his cane. When all was “perfect” as far as no physical obstructions on his path, he did very well on his own. However, unintentionally, students and staff would create a sort of obstacle course for him with wheelchairs, walking apparatus, backpacks, trash cans, furniture, etc. It was never on purpose, but until our classroom staff educated others in the school regarding keeping the hallways clear and safe, they didn’t really think about how someone who couldn’t see these obstructions might be negatively affected or even seriously injured.
Creating a Support Team
As the year progressed, in making others in the school aware of his journey, they did a much better job of making his physical path easier by being part of his support team. Once staff and students better understood THIS student, these “minefields” of obstructions have been greatly reduced. The staff makes an effort to place items out of his way to create a safer physical environment for him which provides better opportunities for his independence and success.
“Minefields” for Those with Autism
As I was thinking about this, my students who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum came to mind. They, too, experience these “minefields of ignorance”, but theirs are much more difficult for others to see. Autism is like that – in that if others (especially typical peers) are made aware of how autism impacts a student, then they can do better to provide a safer and more pleasant journey by being part of their support team.
It’s not necessarily physical blockades or obstacles that are the “minefields,” but whatever challenges that a particular student experiences. We can help classmates better recognize sensory issues and how they relate to potential behavioral meltdowns. Helping them understand how they can assist their peers to avoid these situations or at least understand why these situations happen might better support our students with autism.
For example, educate schoolmates about self-stimulatory or “stimming” behavior in a way that shows that we all “stim,” however, some “stimming” looks more obvious or awkward. Explain how these behaviors can make a child with autism feel safe, comfortable or happy.
By providing peers and staff with a better understanding of autism, (i.e., how it presents and what we can do to reduce these minefields of ignorance) we can facilitate individuals with autism on their personal journeys. As a support team, we can help them navigate through their daily routine. Minefields of ignorance are not bliss. However, fields of knowledge and understanding can help a child blossom and grow.