One thing that everyone needs to remember is that every child is their own person and a diagnosis doesn’t make them the same.
When I was 20 years old I graduated from what would be High School in the US (I’m from Denmark), and I decided to take a year off to work before starting university. But getting a job wasn’t that easy. After 4 months of nothing, a friend of mine told me that she was quitting her job as a substitute teacher, which meant that they would probably need a new one.
I contacted the school, got an interview and a week later I was a substitute teacher. Many people think that being a substitute is easy; you just have to fill in for the teacher and do something with the children. But it’s not! Getting the respect of kids only 5-10 years younger than you isn’t easy. And we all know how horrible children can be to each other.
I got completely terrified, convinced someone had complained about me or that I just wasn’t good enough for the job, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, she asked me if I wanted to work at the A-house as a substitute teacher’s assistant.
The A-house is just a normal small house beside the school that used to be the Principal’s house back in the 60’s, but now the rooms had been turned into classrooms for kids, but not for the kids at the big school. The A-house is like a small school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. Saying yes to this job would mean getting half the pay and more work, but I said yes right away!
My knowledge of Autism was very small, though I knew some of the basics like their need for routines and being prepared, and issues with social interactions, loud noises, smells and lights. But after getting the job I started reading much more about it. I now know that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is known as a complex developmental disability.
What experts say about autism
Experts believe that Autism presents itself during the first three years of a person’s life. The condition is the result of a neurological disorder that has an effect on normal brain function, affecting development of the person’s communication and social interaction skills. People with autism have issues with non-verbal communication, a wide range of social interactions, and activities that include an element of play and/or banter.
As a substitute, I got to be in all four classes and worked with all 20 kids, ages 6 to 15. I quickly learned that the amount of physical contact each child was able to handle was very different. Not only that it changed from child to child, but also that it could change for one child every second. A number of children with an ASD do not like cuddling or being touched like other children do, but it is wrong to say that all children with autism are like that.
Many will hug a relative -usually the mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, teacher, and/or sibling(s)- and enjoy it a lot. Often it is a question of practice and anticipating that physical contact is going to happen. For example, if a child suddenly tickles another child’s feet, the child will most likely giggle and become excited and happy. If that child were to tickle the feet of a child with autism, without that child anticipating the contact, the result might be completely different.
In the class for children ages 6 to 10, there were 5 kids and one of them was a 9 year-old boy, who would scream hysterically if he was touched without being prepared for it, e.g. if you walked up behind him and put your hand on his shoulder or touched his back. But in the same class there was another 9 year-old boy, who didn’t mind unprepared physical contact at all.
But physical contact isn’t the only thing that they need to have to prepare to. Children with ASD need routines and knowing what’s going to happen throughout their whole day. Even the smallest chance in their routine that they had not been prepared for could ruin their whole day.
Working with autistic children is very hard, but my 13 months in the A-house has been one of the best months of my life and I will never forget these 20 amazing children.
A person with autism feels love, happiness, sadness and pain just like everyone else. Just because some of them may not express their feelings in the same way others do, does not mean at all that they do not have feelings – THEY DO!! It is crucial that the Myth -Autistic people have no feelings- is destroyed.
The myth is a result of ignorance and not actual facts.