Monday, November 28, 2011

To tell or not to tell ...

(adapted from our Feb. 2010 newsletter)
As we talk with parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their teachers, we are often asked a form of the following question: “Is it a good idea to share the student’s disability with his/ her classmates?” Teachers cannot share that information by law, as it violates the student’s privacy. Parents are often concerned the disclosure of the label will lead to bullying or teasing. And if a student is doing “fine”, why rock the boat, right?

As mothers of students with special needs ourselves, we consider our children’s developmental stage and self-awareness before deciding what information will be shared with whom and in what format. We encourage teams supporting students with autism to do the same.

Socially, we have found that children tease what they don’t understand. By taking the mystery out of the differences, we can begin to teach acceptance. Once we accept that the student’s limitations are not as a result of willful disobedience or failure to perform, we can start to foster empathy.

We have gone to schools before where there are a number of students in the same grade level with ASD. Some parents were willing to consent to disclose their child’s ASD, whereas others were not. In
those instances, when we come in to do a Peer Sensitivity Workshop (PSW), a couple of things happen: 
  1. We are able to identify within minutes through observation who the other children on the spectrum are. 
  2. As we interact with the typically-developing peers about autism, they ask about or comment on this classmate we suspect has ASD. Because we do not have parental consent, we will not discuss that child to maintain his or her privacy. However, it is important to note that many, if not all, of the children participating in the PSW have identified differences long before we came to teach them how to be good friends. And now instead of having their questions answered in a positive, caring atmosphere, they may be left wondering.

While we are not suggesting it is appropriate universally to divulge a child’s diagnosis, it is worthwhile for caregivers to do an honest cost-benefit analysis. In our opinion, it is better to start the discussion early so everyone is better equipped to be supportive.

If you want help establishing a common language and a culture of acceptance for your student with ASD, contact us (Chelsea 414-510-0385, Denise 262-391-1369).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

First, a warm welcome to our new friends we met at the OCALI Conference and Exposition in Columbus, Ohio, last week!  Whether you came by our booth, attended our breakout, and/or purchased one or both of our DVDs, we appreciate your interest in creating a culture of acceptance at your school.

This is a great time for expressing gratitude in general.  As an organization, Good Friend appreciates each of its members and supporters who give of their time, talent, and monetary resources to keep the autism Awareness-Acceptance-Empathy message moving forward.  Nonprofit organizations rely on the generosity of others to sustain their missions, and Good Friend is no exception!  We are glad you understand that the work we do in building strong social foundations today becomes the base for our community's pillars -- employment opportunities, accessible recreation, and universally designed facilities where everyone's abilities are valued.

We also appreciate the schools that are taking time out of their day to equip their staff and students to recognize disability harassment, respond appropriately, and think proactively.  These schools that choose to engage Good Friend are aware that all students learn better when they feel safe and respected.

It's never too late to take steps toward creating a safe social climate at your school.  And if you're enjoying such a campus, we know you are thankful for it.  If not, get in touch with us and let's find a way to add that kind of climate to your list of things for which you're grateful.