Wings of Epoh - One Teacher's Perspective
Our school "houses" separate classes for children with autism spectrum disorders. It is an elementary school, K-6. The children are included with a regular education classroom for small parts of the day, for example, for our specials - art, gym, etc. Eventually, the children begin to be included for our Morning Meetings (from Responsive Classroom) and then for subjects, and often are fully included by the end of their time in elementary school - with support.For several years it has been my regular education classroom where the second grade children from the autistic support classroom have begun to be included for their Morning Meeting time, subjects, and sometimes, have begun to be fully included, even in second grade. What I have seen is that the regular ed. children and the children who are included on a part-time basis do not always understand each other or interact as we would hope they would. So, I was glad to have the Wings of Epoh, etc. to use to explore similarities/differences. I decided to take a risk and present the story, video, and some of the activities when all of the children were together. I slightly modified some of the language in the book because, for legal purposes, etc., I did not want to identify any children with autism. To make a long story short, we had some great discussions that related to all the children (and adults). We talked about differences, including those that cannot always be seen. (I shared how much it bothers me when people hiccup :) ) We talked, for example, about how noise in our assemblies can hurt someone's ears and that is why they might needs headphones. We talked about other times when we feel uncomfortable.The children at our school see a lot of "non-typical" behaviors that can be scary, such as screaming, running away, lying on the floor in the hall. They get confused, and they do get scared. It helps to be able to discuss even these differences. Although we cannot always label the children as children with autism, we can explain how children can be different. Using stories, videos, and activities help the children understand and make connections to some of their own feelings.I hope to use some more of the activities throughout the year and to share the program with the rest of my colleagues. One of the biggest hurdles I see with children who become included in the regular education classrooms is being accepted, even if they are different. I think we do a great job of helping those with special needs, but we also have to provide support for the other children who aren't really understanding certain behaviors. And, if we can start when they are young, then hopefully when they reach the older grades, some of the exclusion and unkind behaviors can perhaps be avoided.