Hello everyone! My name is Stephanie and I’m autistic. This month, because it’s autism acceptance month, I’m going to write a little bit about my experience as an autistic special education teacher. My experience is not representative of all autistic people. The saying “If you’ve met one person diagnosed with autism, you’ve met one person diagnosed with autism.” is very apt. I will reference the autistic community and the collective feelings of the autistic community, but that is a generalization. I also filter my experience through the lens of a special education teacher. With that said, here we go!
Identity First Language vs. Person First Language
You’re probably thinking, “Whoa, whoa Stephanie! You aren’t using person first language.” That’s correct. I’m using identity first language. What’s that? Well, in the autism community you will find that most autistics prefer to refer to themselves as autistic. Myself included.
We use identity first language all the time. You may say, “ I’m Texan’ or “ I’m Polish” because these things are a part of who you are. You may connect with the LGBTQIA+ community, you may be a part of a community that identifies a specific heritage. It’s pretty similar. Do you say “I am a person with Texan” No. You claim being Texan as part of who you are. In this example, you’re proud of it, it’s a part of you. That’s how I feel about being autistic. I can’t separate it from who I am. It’s not baggage and I’m proud to be autistic. My brain is just a little different from yours.
How does this affect me professionally? I am a professional. I will continue to use person first language in the context of my job. If I am discussing a student with another professional and I need to mention their disability category I will still say,” Stephanie is diagnosed with autism.”
Check out this website for more information on Identity First Language and why it’s important: https://www.identityfirstautistic.org/
Puzzle Piece Vs. Rainbow Infinity Symbol
You’re a teacher and you want to support your students or you are a parent and you want to show support for your child. You buy something with the puzzle piece on it to support your child or student. Later, an autistic person tells you that they don’t like the puzzle piece and show you the rainbow infinity symbols instead. You feel conflicted and defensive. This happens every day. The history surrounding autism speaks and the puzzle piece is problematic. They once advocated for curing autism. How can that be bad, you say? Well, autism isn’t cancer. You can’t heal or change my brain. It’s not a ‘bad’ thing to be cured. The puzzle piece symbolized finding the ‘missing piece’ and curing autism.
You will find most autistic adults prefer the infinity symbol. I think that you are still allowed to love the puzzle piece for what it means to you. You may be surprised to know that I own things with the puzzle piece on it. However, when an autistic person tells you why it’s problematic you need to listen to them. Please don’t silence actual autistic voices because you feel defensive about something like. Remember, having an autistic child or work with autistic adults does not make you autistic. You still do not know what it is like to be an actually autistic person.
ABA, should we use it or not?
I was diagnosed at 26 and did not go through ABA therapy. So, I do not feel qualified to talk about this. I will link you to a wonderful article that researches the subject in depth. Once again, do not discount actually autistic voices because what they say makes you uncomfortable.
The article linked above does a wonderfully articulate job at explaining the issue from all sides and is well sourced.
I will leave you with these guidelines:
- Please do not force eye contact
- Don’t extinguish non-harmful stimming behaviors
- Focus as much as you can on functional communication skills.
Acceptance Vs. Awareness
It’s Autism Acceptance Month, not awareness and here is why. Honestly, people that are neurotypical do need to learn to accept autistic and other neurodivergent people as they are. We aren’t like you and that’s okay. You don’t need to be ‘aware’ of us. You need to accept us. That’s it. It’s pretty simple.
Please don’t support autism speaks.
Make sure the communities you support, actually include autistic people.
How does my autism affect my teaching? I’m just like you and the things that affect you affect me. I do think that I have a different perspective than others do and that helps me think outside the box. I’m more patient with certain things because special education is my special interest. It’s what I’m focused on. Autistic people have special interests, in children it could be dinosaurs, for me it’s special education. I am very focused on improving my skills. I do have to make sure that break away from special interests sometimes.
Do I stim? Yes, I like to clap my hands. It makes me feel better. Do I get overstimulated? Yes, by certain smells. Do I have the coping skills to make it through the day? Absolutely. In the end, that is what we really want. We want our students and children to have the coping skills to make it outside of school or the home.
If you have any other questions please ask them and I would be more than happy to answer. You can ask about me as well. I hope this is helpful to you. Make sure to check out this post on how to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month!