Embracing Neurodiversity This Month & Every Month
Jennie Wu, ISE Specialist, Rocketship Futuro Academy
Autism awareness means that everyone in our community is aware that there is more than one way of seeing the world, more than one way to take in information, and more than one way to communicate or express oneself. Our students with autism are some of the funniest people I know, so you definitely should have a good sense of humor and love to laugh and get silly with them. It’s important to honor their requests or validate their communication as much as possible because it reinforces positive social interactions for them. It’s also critical to differentiate instruction for our ISE students while meaningfully including them. Meaningful inclusion means that adults meet students where they are at and they create access for them to participate in academics with their peers, social activities, as well as for students to be independent as possible with adaptive skills.
At Rocketship Futuro Academy, meaningful inclusion looks like taking into consideration all the various needs of a student and figuring out what are the most beneficial times for this student to participate in the general education (GE) classroom. It looks different for all students. For example, we have a G4 student who spends half his day in the GE class when we are in school regularly. He really enjoys time with his peers socializing and learning SEL lessons, and they all benefit from each other’s friendship. So we tried having him learning in the GE Zoom at the beginning of Distance Learning this year. It was really challenging because the pace was too fast and all the tech navigation was really challenging for him and his family members supporting him. It was causing meltdowns and a lot of frustration for him. So we had to quickly shift and create a customized schedule for him. It took the first semester to strike that balance of this student getting the individual instruction that he needs and also being in the GE class with his teachers and friends. This student now starts his morning in SEL with his friends, working on IEP goals individually, and then has an enrichment club in the afternoons with his friends. His peers earn time to come to the club by finishing OLPs, and together they socialize by playing games on Zoom, having conversations, and sometimes watching Brainpop Jr. Through this student’s feedback and working with their family, we found a schedule that worked best for them – balancing meaningful inclusion with specialized support.
Meaningful inclusion benefits all our Rocketeers, no matter their needs. I am so proud of our Rocketeers with special needs and how much they add to our school communities. When we have a lot of different functioning brains come together, the world is a much more interesting and better place. We want to normalize different perspectives and different ways to take in information, as well as different ways to put it back out into the world. We want to accept our students as they are and see all the talents, strengths and gifts they teach us and bring to us daily. I’ve learned so much from each student I’ve ever worked with, that’s why I never say no to working with a kid. Without them in my life, I would know much less and have much fewer rich experiences.
It’s been the most challenging year I’ve ever experienced as a teacher, but throughout all the ups and downs I feel like something that has gotten stronger is my communication and connection with my students. I’ve connected even more this year with students like Logan. Last year, Logan spent a lot of time running away from me! But in November when I first saw him in person this year, he saw me and said, “mama!” and ran to me. I feel like he understands that school right now is different and he is happy to just be back. I feel like I’ve gotten to know my families deeper, and have a much deeper understanding of everything they do to take care of their children. I’m thankful for my colleagues, for being there for all the twists and turns, and being able to brainstorm outside of the box ideas that amaze and inspire me all the time.
Published on April 2, 2021