I read and shared a great article the other day, written by Laura McKenna, entitled, “Our Public Schools Must Be More Autism-Friendly — Here’s Where to Start,” and published on the Pacific Standard Magazine website. In it, Ms. McKenna highlights ways in which schools could be more inclusive with their extra-curricular offerings. She makes an excellent point, as may of the kids I know on the spectrum do not participate in clubs and sports, due to the level of social sophistication that is required for inclusion. But that only allows our children partial access to everything the school experience has to offer.
The Boy and I have made the decision to continue with school band next year. I have spoken to the band director, and we are going to take a proactive approach, and really monitor what needs to be modified and accommodated for him, even in terms of performances. I am comfortable with that, and if I ever get uncomfortable with the situation, I can pull The Boy out and continue with private lessons, which was my intention when the whole band debacle went down this winter. But here’s the thing: I realize now what a social thing school band is, and I understand that this may not work out for The Boy, and that’s OK. But I still want him to belong to his school community, and if it won’t be through band, then how?
When he dropped him off after spring break, his dad told us all about how they played basketball, and The Boy has a great shot. They also worked on catch, but were not as successful, and they would work on that (uh, right). Sure, if The Boy has interest in playing sports, we could encourage it, but to what end? School sports are also social in nature, with the necessity to read cues from teammates and opponents and to quickly interpret them and decide on a course of collective action – a tall order for someone with underdeveloped social instincts and executive processing difficulties. So he shoots free throws by himself? Again, how does this help him fit into his school community?
Our local Autism Society Chapter has taken on the challenge to fill this void in our community, and I applaud them for it. They have been recognized statewide for creating a “Friends, Fun, and Birthday Club” which happens once a month to celebrate all of the kids birthdays that happen that month. Friends, siblings, and those on the spectrum are all invited – anyone can attend, and since Birthday Parties are kind of a sore spot for the autism community, this meets a very strong need, and is quite successful.
They also have a once-per-month fundraiser at a local pizza restaurant, which has turned out to be a social gathering for the kids on the spectrum and their siblings. They all sit at the same table, away from their parents, and they bring their DS’s and gameboys and have a good ol’ time. It is a sight to behold, and I almost get teary-eyed watching them together.
The chapter offers monthly music and art programs for the kids to participate in, too,and again, friends, siblings, and kids on the spectrum are all welcome.
But again, this is all outside of the school community. Inclusion needs to happen outside of the classroom, as well, and it is high time our schools begin to recognize the void in our kids lives. Yes, we want to allow them the comfort of being alone, but as adults on the spectrum will tell you, they also want to have friends and be a part of the larger group. We have to help them do that, and developing programs to address those needs is long past overdue.
I’m off to share this article with my son’s principal…