As the daughter and granddaughter of special education teachers it was no wonder I was drawn into the field. The autism spectrum is broad and ranges from everyday people displaying an array of tendencies that resemble a very much misunderstood social inadequacy. In others, a more debilitating form of isolation from people and the world.
My two-year long journey was in a suburban special needs school for early intervention and it was life changing. My placement with a non-verbal autistic group quickly introduced me to the child’s world where the inability to communicate with the world around them sounded nothing like silence.
The progression process is slow and winding, however, the gratification I received overwhelmed me. The term ‘slow and steady wins the race’ resonated in my mind even though some days it seemed like instead of taking steps forward they were taking steps back. Regression is not an uncommon occurrence amongst these children, however with continued perseverance and endless support from the parents, nonverbal autistic students actually find a way to voice what’s on their minds. Whether speaking actual words, using a communication board, sign language or gesturing, when an autistic child is able to convey information to others the reward is celebratory.
A student’s success story that is near and dear to my heart involves Matt* who started receiving intervention at three years old. Two years later, Matt is able to establish eye contact with the speaker, and increase his ability to maintain eye contact during back and forth interaction. Matt transformed from having no interest in others to a much more socially aware, connected kid who seeks out others for play and shows affection. So easy to take such a simple social adequacy for granted, but for Matt’s mom it meant the world! The latest video mom shared with me featured Matt on a tennis court swinging his racket repeatedly. Seeing him so engaged brought a tear to my eye. So much progress in such little time. I know this boy is going to succeed. He will hold a place in my heart forever.
Knowing the daily struggles families of autistic children go through, I feel blessed to have been an integral part of their development. Initiating intervention at a very young age ensures greater success. I’m feeling optimistic that as my journey continues, I will be able to touch many other lives, to better their day, give hope for their future and together build a better world.
*Name changed for anonymity purposes.