A sea of blue greeted me this morning. Earlier in the week, I sent out a reminder to staff and families that today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day. Globally, we were invited to wear blue to promote this day of awareness, to “light it up blue.” I thought maybe a few teachers might remember their blue shirts. I didn’t know about the children or parents. Many remembered. What a feast for the eyes it was to see such a collection of blue. Support for autism awareness and the families who are living with autism is alive and well at Awakening Seed.
For a small school, we have quite a few students on the autism spectrum. Over the years we’ve made a commitment to serving as many children on the spectrum as we can. The Seed has a system for carefully selecting which of them will be a good fit for the school, both for the child and for us. We protect their privacy and offer our services to the best of our ability to meet their needs as well as those of their neurotypical peers. Our students on the spectrum are a part of our regular program, embraced with the same inclusivity as we extend to any child. Our goal is to help these and all children blend in, to be a part of the greater community.
Years ago I was on a graduation trip with our oldest class, which included a student on the spectrum. Near the beginning of the trip, a parent of another student asked me if I thought having a child with autism in the class might take away from the experience of the other kids because of the child’s need for extra attention. I quickly said no, explaining that in fact it’s generally an excellent opportunity for the other kids to learn how to be with a child with autism, to learn empathy, kindness and patience. Additionally, I went on to say that in many cases, the child with autism brings a unique perspective to situations and offers creative, innovative ideas for approaching life experiences.
With 1 in every 68 children currently being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, helping typical children learn about this disorder seems even more important. They will grow up and live in a world populated by more and more adults with autism. Our mission at the Seed is to foster relationships that far surpass tolerance. As with all children, our intention is to develop relationships that celebrate each child’s uniqueness. We are helping children learn to use their voices, so they can speak up for themselves and for their peers who may or may not have autism. (check this link out for a child who has found his voice: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/27/health/cdc-autism/)
At the end of the graduation trip, the same parent who approached me with her question took me aside. “I see what you mean. He does bring something special to this group. Now I understand.” Our sea of blue at the Seed today, which is part of a global ocean, is our way of saying we understand. And we will keep up the important work of helping others understand, too.