As we at Handicap This Productions continue the countdown towards the release for Making Minds Handicap Accessible: The Classroom Experience, we welcome guest blogger Julie D. Riley. Making Minds Handicap Accessible: The Classroom Experience will take Handicap This’ message calling for an inclusive, accepting, and bully free environment straight to high school classrooms all over America.
Julie D. Riley’s work as Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disabilities (LASARD) Project Coordinator helps make inclusive, accepting, and bully free environments possible across the Pelican State. Today in her special guest post she highlights inclusion and acceptance’s importance through discussing the desire for acceptance.
What are your hopes for life? Happiness? A sense of worth? Love? According to CSESA (Center for Secondary Education of Students with Autism) students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) should have “something to do, somewhere to be, and someone to love”. I think these goals ring true for everyone. For students with ASD, these goals can be especially hard because of their difficulty with social communication behavior.
Evidence (specifically from Bauminger, Shulman, & Agam, 2003) shows that individuals with ASD want friends, but do not know how to go about finding them. As a result, they report loneliness at higher rates than students without disabilities (See Bauminger & Kasari, 2000). Also, more than students with other disabilities, individuals with ASD rarely see friends outside of school or are invited to outside social activities. (assertion based off NLTS2 and SEELS studies). Friends provide a safety net of loved ones, so it’s important to help students make the social connections while still in school.
What can adults do to support the friendships for students with ASD? First, get to know the student. What are his or her interests? Once you know what the student likes, check out school-sponsored clubs and organizations.
Especially in larger high schools, there may be some clubs that you may not be aware of ““ robotics, green club, and video gamers to name a few. Don’t make assumptions about what the students wants or sign them up for something without their consent. Always give students opportunities to self-advocate and make their own choices.
If clubs do not exist (or no exciting club exist), look for peers with common interests. Adults can help set up social opportunities, but then it’s very important to back out of the way! I often see well-meaning adults over-support students with disabilities out of concern for the students’ safety.
Think about your high school experiences. Would you want an adult eavesdropping and interfering with your conversations with friends at school? If safety is a concern, step back so you can still see and monitor the situation, but don’t interfere if the student is safe and included. Sometimes just finding the opportunities won’t be enough. If you notice a student is still not interacting with his peers, determine what skills he may need to be taught. Or, maybe he has the skills, but he just isn’t using them in all settings. The student may need some conversation starters or scripts to get started.
An adult with ASD told me once that he always makes sure he has three recent topics ready for conversation ““ a news event, a sports event, and a pop culture event. He was set for small talk all week! Sharing explicit strategies may help the student not only in high school, but after he or she graduates.
Finally, don’t forget about the student! Ask the student with ASD if he is enjoying himself. Ask the peers if they are enjoying the relationship. Many neurotypical individuals have found that friendships with those with disabilities can be interesting and long-lasting. Hopefully when students with ASD leave school, they can have something to do, somewhere to be, and someone to love!
More About Julie:
Julie D. Riley is Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disabilities (LASARD) Project Coordinator. She earned her Master’s in education in school counseling from University of Southern Mississippi. Before becoming LASARD Project Coordinator, Julie served as Associate Director of the Florida State University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.