In this day and age, we need to stop striving for autism awareness. Instead, we need to focus our efforts on making sure that students with autism are accepted and included.
Children can be wary of people who are new or act differently than the other people around them. It is important for us to help them understand what autism is. If you aren’t sure of what to say, try reading a book to the children. Recently, I discovered a newer book called, Why Is He Doing That? It is written by the sister of a boy with autism, Gerald.
This book sparked some really nice conversation in my classroom even with my students who are very accepting of my students with autism. Many of my students could recognize something about Gerald that was similar to him.
Another idea is to ask to present at both the faculty meeting and to an assembly with students. At the presentations, put people in simulations to help them understand what sensory overload, motor delays and processing disorders feel like. While I have a deep understanding (and acceptance) of students with autism, these simulations really do give you a whole different perspective.
For language processing simulations, have the person wear noise canceling headphones while you teach them something. These headphones will let bits and pieces of what you are saying through, but much of what you say will be missed. For example, hold flashcards up one at a time asking random questions and score the person with headphones answers. It is likely participants won’t do well.
For fine motor simulations, have the person wear over-sized work gloves while they have to sort mixed coins into stacks. Another good task is to have them have to string small beads.
For sensory overload simulations, blare loud music while another person moves around the room talking with a blow horn. While that is all going on, stand in front of the group and read or tell them about a new skill. Then, turn everything off and see if they are able to answer any questions.
For a simulation of visual disorders, have participants wear goggles that have been spray painted black and only have a few random spots to look through. How much longer will it take for the person to do a fine motor or sorting task than without them?
While you could do one or two of these simulations, going through all of the simulations give participants a deeper understanding. To make these simulations more manageable, we had the participants rotate through each simulation. Once the person has gone through all of the stations, have them observe others going through them.