By Kimberly Icard
As an elementary autism teacher, I have the privilege of hanging out with some of the coolest 6-12 year olds you will ever find. Every day is an adventure. Whenever I am meeting a new person or hanging out with a new group of people and am asked what I do for a living, my response is always followed by a “Wow! You must be very patient!” or “That must be soooo challenging.”
In reality my job is challenging, and I am a fairly patient person. However, the piece that most of the outside world misses is that I get to spend the day with the most creative, energetic, and loving children – who also just happen to have Autism and other disabilities.
How I Work
My teaching philosophy has always been to embrace children where they are, focus on the positive, and consistently build a foundation for learning. This foundation can mean you start with how to sit at a desk appropriately, or how to write a five-sentence paragraph. Children with autism run the gamut of emotions, so you have to as well.
One of the earmarks of autism is difficulty with social skills. We teach our students the basics of good social skills. Greetings, goodbyes, how to respond to questions like “How are you?” or “How old are you?” Even with practicing these questions, my students constantly surprise me and keep me on my toes.
I was taking attendance out loud one day and asked a student “Who is not here today?” The student looked around briefly and responded “Star Jones.” While it is true that lawyer and journalist Star Jones was not present in the room, it wasn’t the answer that I was expecting. Expect the unexpected when working with children!
How Our Children Work
Children with autism are always making connections between the outside world and their own comfortable world. As an educator, you have to find ways to gain access to their safe place. Our students have so much to offer the world.
Professionally, if students with autism learn a job skill, they will be dedicated and meticulous at completing a task.
Socially, they can participate in conversation and be contributing members to society.
Academically, they can wow you with how they are able to complete math problems in their head, or read on an advanced level. The sky and our imagination is really the limit to what they are able to achieve.
I have found that what is missing from the autism puzzle is not something they need to solve or learn, but rather what pieces I can bring. Passion for teaching can complete the puzzle. Love for one another can complete the puzzle. Patience, relationship building, dedication, and joy can all go a long way into making all of the pieces fit.
Photo caption: Kimberly works with Marquise, a third grader who has autism.