Laughter, smiles and rushing feet; maybe some hopping and skipping. Not many words. My students were excited to walk into the playground just as we do every day after lunch. Following bubbles from the bubble machine, going up the tunnel and down the slide (over and over and over again), and getting tickled are some of their favorite activities to do in the playground. However, something happened today. Something that helped me realize I need to do more outside of my classroom.
As one of my students flapped his hands towards the trees—as he typically does since he enjoys the sensory input he receives from watching the branches move with the wind—a Kindergartener of typical development saw him, pointed at him, and laughed as he showed his friends. My first reaction was to become upset, very upset. My students don’t understand what it is to be bullied or to be made fun of because they’re different. They don’t understand social situations, whether positive or negative. My students have Autism…
I do not take situations like this lightly; if I don’t interfere, who else will? The anger I felt was quickly replaced by understanding. Many of our general population students have not had an opportunity to interact with our students with Autism. They have not been explained what it is to have a disability or what it is to ‘behave’ different. And this was a Kindergartener for goodness sake! As I walked toward the kid, I wanted to sit him by me and explain all I know about Autism. I wanted to talk to him about the big responsibility he has of showing respect, empathy and understanding. I wanted to let him know that he can make a difference by simply showing kindness and acceptance. So I did. I walked to him and was overtaken by a great desire to teach. My words were simple and quick. Enough to let him know I noticed him. Although he was a little scared to see me coming toward him- my demeanor might have been a bit scary- I could see I sparked some interest in him. That’s all I wanted; to plant a seed of curiosity so that they may continue to be haunted by the thought that everyone is different and that different is okay.
My students didn’t notice; but I did. It’s about time I make a difference outside of my classroom. It’s time to teach awareness and kindness to the little ones I pass by every day and ignore because I am so busy supervising my students with disabilities. Perhaps I can make a difference one student at a time, just as I did today. Or perhaps, I will get together with other Special Education teachers in the Autism Academy at my school, we’ll plan a simple informative session we can teach to grade-school students about how to treat students with disabilities; perhaps this will change their lives and they’ll grow up to be thoughtful, caring, kind and accepting people who treat everyone fairly… One can only dream.. and take action! Today was an excellent day!