School can often be an intimidating place for just about anybody. But it is on the playgrounds and classrooms of our schools where we learn many life skills. Part of life's journey is learning how to cope with the unfamiliar.
One of the most daunting issues for children with autism is how to interact with classmates - unfamiliar territory that can prove overwhelming for all involved. While public awareness for autism has increased, understanding autism on a human level remains a work in progress.
Autism is a neurological disorder with a wide range of symptoms that often leaves educators and parents alike confused by its mysterious nature. Understanding the nature of autism can go a long way to alleviating some of the frustration felt. Despite efforts, it isn't always easy.
"There's nothing worse than getting a phone call from a school teacher asking you to go pick up your child because they were out of control. Many times I felt helpless. I often cried myself to sleep thinking I failed him," explained Mary DeMauro, whose son lives with the disorder. Eventually Matthew was prescribed Ritalin to help him keep focused in class, but this did not solve his problems. School was still having a negative impact on him. "They bug me a lot on the bus. I know I'm different."
Early diagnosis is crucial to the development of children with autism. If a specialist determines that a child has autism, it is believed that interaction in a normal social setting can go a long way to helping a child open up. Indeed, initiatives have been undertaken to integrate kids with autism in regular classrooms. What have been the results so far?
According to Tania Piperni, Autism Special Disorder consultant at the English Montreal School Board, it's not the kids from regular classes who have been a source of frustration, but the lack of proper resources. "It has become a normal and learned behavior for students to be helpful with kids with special needs. However, sometimes our resources need to be pooled more towards supporting and assisting the adults such as teachers and educators. Providing them with general information about autism and visual learning styles can be most helpful."