About Me

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I am a special education teacher in England, working in a mainstream academy with a centre for children with learning difficulties. I teach a class of 7 students of secondary age with profound and multiple learning difficulties. These include autism, visual impairment and sensory integration disorder. I love love love my job. It inspires ,enthuses .and lifts me and I never intend to retire. :)

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A can of worms

I mentioned in my last post that I had recently joined twitter and had found there a wonderful community of autistic people and friends and parents of autistic people [by autistic I include everyone on the autistic spectrum, which includes aspergers] All the people I have become friends with are so loving and supportive of each other and delightful people, who I feel honoured to know .
As I have read conversations and blogs by them I've come upon some words which are unfamiliar to me and researched them via google .This has led me to delve deeper into the issues of autism in a political realm , and I discovered that the autistic community basically falls into two camps : those who believe in neuro diversity and those who don't [I'm not sure what to call the other camp] Briefly and simply[remember that I've only just found these things out ] I will try to describe the main differences
Neurodiversity is believing that autism is a difference , not a diesease , not a mental illness , not a disorder but a difference . Where neurotypicals [thats us so called normal people HA!] think , learn and process sensory information in one way , those on the autistic spectrum do all those things differently ,making it difficult for them to understand us and for us to understand them .There is no cure for autism although many autistic people can learn to understand the rest of society through education and some therapies and can be independant , live alone, form relationships etc ,Many autistic people wouldn't want to be different and feel that if you took their autism away you would be taking away their essential character , that essence of who they are .Believers in neurodiversity think that autism is of genetic origon , not environmental , and research into cures in a waste of time, and money and an insult to those who are autistic ie making them feel that we wish they ed never been born . Autistic people want equal rights and equality with neurotypicals in the job market and every other section of society and feel they have been , and are being discriminated against on a regular basis . They also believe that many of the difficulties people with autism experience, in their differences, in fitting into society are caused by a lack of understanding and acceptance on societies side which could be corrected by better education and knowledge . They often have advocates who are themselves autistic as there is a strange lack of autistic people allowed to speak on the behalf of other people with autism.
The other camp [TOC :)]believe that autism is more than a difference , its huge disorder/handicap that affects those with it and their families in a devastating way.They want to find a cure and support research to this end , also research into what causes it . They believe the incidence of autism has increased dramatically in recent years and therefore this should be addressed.They also want to help children with autism and their families to cope with autism as best they can . Many different and expensive therapies , drugs and treatments have been tried and been accredited with varying degrees of success .
Now in researching these issues I discovered a strange and shocking truth- The two camps hate each other !!!!!!!. I suppose when looked at closely that's not shocking at all, after all they believe the complete opposite of each other . Also people care passionately about these issues as they are affected by them or the lives of their loved ones are . If you put any group of people together it generally leads to disagreement and argument and fallouts . Who hasn't worked in a job where bitching is rife? Unfortunately , we humans are like that . What is shocking however is that for some people , and only some , the desire to score points against the other side is greater than the desire to help those who are suffering . To some the tendency to whinge and moan about the other side takes precedence over taking action to change things .Take the current situation over Zakhquery Price , an 11 year old autistic child faced with charges of felony , due mainly to the absolute ineptness of the teachers and their inability to work with the family to help Zakh or to follow reasonable protocols . A horrible story, which makes many of us feel sick with disgust but used by some members of both camps to take a pop at the other side . FOR FUCKS SAKE PEOPLE!! What about Zakh here ? Doesn't he matter more than point scoring ?
Before I go any further I shall try and explain where I stand on the neurodiversity versus TOC issue. My beliefs have changed over years as I have learnt new facts or had new experiences , so this is where I stand now , today. I believe Autism is a difference , not an illness and I've always believed that. I believe all autistic people , wherever they are on the spectrum , should be accepted and loved for who they are . My brother, Andrew has Aspergers , he flaps his hands and mumbles several times a day[ I believe its called stimming ], he doesn't give eye contact, jumps sky high if you unexpectedly touch him and he often "finds life overwhelming"[ his words] However he is the most lovely funny kind and sensitive man you could meet . Kids love him , his students respect him for his skill at lecturing and he has a few close friends who love him .The students in my class are at the opposite end of the spectrum . Non verbal, doubly incontinent , hyperactive , extremely obsessive and often violent , they too are gorgeous , funny cheeky happy people [most of the time ] I believe there is no cure , that its genetic and the best way forward is through education . I think that we need to educate society to accept and understand by raising the autistic profile and we need to give autistic children and adults the skills to socialise and to understand the way we neurotypicals behave . They make steps towards us, we make steps towards them .Each child is different and what helps one won't do anything for someone else . Just as there is a wide range of needs on the autistic spectrum there should be a wide range of educational provision to help them . Even within one class of students I have used 3 different reading schemes , different therapies , different motivating activities . There's no one way .
So I'm a neurodiversity person then ? Well, mostly I guess I am but I am not completely sure on all issues . I'm not sure if something environmental may not play a part in developing autism in some people . Could it be a genetic predisposition which is triggered in some people by an environmental trigger . I think maybe the jury is still out on that one

If I have said anything that's not right please feel free to tell me and I'll happily discuss things with anyone . However I refuse point blank to argue , get personal or score points . We're all fighting for the kids and the autistic community so lets learn to work together . Its more important to be peaceful than to be right , its more important to take action than to be right , its more important to be reconciled and united than to be right! I intend to take action in the following ways : 1in my classroom to do all I can to improve the quality of life for the children . To help them be happy and give them skills to help them reach their potential
2to help the parents of the kids in their struggles and to help them understand why their kids are the way they are
3 in the school I work in to teach the mainstream teachers ways they can help students with aspergers to access the curriculum , and to understand them better
4on twitter and facebook to support whatever political issues arise, donate , discuss but never argue or bitch :)

Oh and it strikes me an autism advocate would be the ideal job for me . How do I get to be one ? Anyone?


  1. Thank you for writing this clarification. It was an absolute pleasure to read. I totally agree with you.

  2. You are an autism advocate by what you do every day. In fact start with your blog to gain ideas and practice and then sit down and write a book of practical information on how to teach children with autism. Such books are needed.

  3. thanks Elise . Its nice to think you feel I can write a book but I'm not as confident in my abilities. There are some books out there that have been invaluable to me . My favorite is by my good friend Dave Sherratt called Teaching Children on the autistic Spectrum . Its one of those books you never stop going back to.