Autism Advocacy

On Special Education–Communication

Originally published January 15, 2019

In my first post on this subject, I mentioned that I feel like my experience in special ed has been a waste of my abilities intellectually. The main reason for that is because of my inability to communicate completely independently. Because I can’t speak fluently or just sit in front of a computer and type out my thoughts without help, no one believed that I was in there and understanding everything that was going on around me.

I learned how to communicate through a program run by a lady named Soma at her office when I was fifteen using a pencil and a stencil board. My initial conversations were brief because it was a painfully-slow method of pointing out one letter at a time, waiting for her to write that letter down and then choosing the next letter. During my twenty-minute sessions, I could only complete a few sentences. My dad figured out how to make it work on an iPad and that opened up my world. Over the five years since, I have become much faster at it and have become more effective at expressing what is in my brain. It has taken hours and hours of practice and a lot of patience but I feel like now I can truly communicate.

But, there is a problem. For me to type, I must hold onto someone’s hand. I don’t understand it either but unless I do that, my mind is jumbled and I can’t focus my thoughts well enough to construct coherent sentences. I’m working on fixing this but haven’t figured it out yet. And, I can’t just sit with anybody and type. Again, I don’t know why. If it is someone that makes me nervous or if I feel like I’m being judged or graded, my mind goes blank. My parents have put in the time to make it really comfortable for me to type with them. My dad especially has worked with me a ton and it comes really easy when I type with him. We have even just finished writing a book of my experience with faith and have submitted it to a publisher. We’re still waiting to hear back, so my fingers are crossed that it will be available to the public soon.

Anyway, at school, no one has taken the time that it would require for me to feel comfortable typing with them. So, nobody believes I can do it like my parents tell them I can. It is super frustrating because instead of learning age-appropriate things, I have been stuck at elementary-level material since I was in elementary school. I am so tired of counting coins that I could go crazy. Maybe I am not going to be a cashier! Let’s move on! How about teaching me something I’m actually interested in like history or literature or psychology? That would require some belief on their part that I was understanding those concepts. And would require a lot of dedicated time working on communication in the way that I have learned how to communicate. If I were teaching a class full of autistic children, I would spend at least two hours a day on learning each child’s best communication method and the rest of the time teaching age-level material with the assumption that it was sinking in and they were learning. That means, though, that you can’t necessarily rely on test scores and data points as your indicators of success. It might require some faith in your students, instead.

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