This past Monday, my son with Autism Spectrum Disorder 'taught' a class again. Reaching out to future teachers is something he and I (and the rest of my family) really enjoy doing. This time instead of going to Central Michigan University, we drove 20 miles south to Alma College to teach an evening classroom of future general education teachers who are taking a course on special education. We were invited by the instructor, whose wife happens to teach my son's MiCI class. She attended our presentation and was able to provide a few insightful comments as we went.
In preparation we packed up his three favorite stuffed froggys: Tree Froggy, Big Dot Froggy, and King Squeaky. We also took a small American flag. My son led the class in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem while holding the flag. The point of bring the flag and froggys was to illustrate that children with autism (and other special needs children as well) often have special interest areas. I wanted to stress that a great way to reach a special needs child is to find out what those areas are in order to connect with the student.
My major role in the presentation was that of a guide, filling in the blanks as my son presented and giving him suggestions about what to say to the class. He's a much better lecturer than I am and has no fear about getting up in front of a lot of people. It's a strength that gives us great hope for his future.
My little one wanted to teach too, so we brought a couple of his stuffed cats to show and he stood up front with us. As the guide, I made sure he was able to say a couple things to the class.
My husband also came to the presentation. He said a few positive words about our son's future and pointed out that parents of special needs children have different backgrounds and different levels of parent involvement in their child's education. He was right in his element as he works as a librarian at Central Michigan University. Talking to students is very much part of his job.
It was our first time presenting as a family. As a whole, we presented for about forty five minutes. It worked out having our youngest son there because I was able to make a point about the importance of balancing the needs of our older son (who has autism) with the needs of our younger one, who is neurotypical. I also was able to point out the difference between the educational journeys of the two. My youngest will likely stay in the same school (unless we move) from Kindergarten to fourth grade. My oldest will have been in four different schools since Kindergarten by the time he finishes the fourth grade.
According to a follow-up email from the instructor, our presentation was a success. He said that the students really liked our son and that they would have enjoyed having him in their classrooms. In turn, we appreciated the students. They were attentive and we had numerous smiles coming our way as we presented.
The instructor and my son's teacher was kind enough to present us with a gift card to Subway, my son's favorite restaurant. I showed it to my son that night. He showed great excitement over the gift.
"We're going tomorrow!" he said. So we went last night. It was a great bonus for doing something we all enjoyed.
Note: With the idea of inclusion and mainstreaming popular nowadays, it is a great idea for general education students to take at least one course in special education. If I had my way, they'd all take a class just on autism as this condition is becoming increasingly prevalent. Chances are, most of the future teachers will have special needs children (many with autism) included in their classroom.