By KODEY TONEY
Jen and I had the privilege of attending the Oklahoma Statewide Autism Conference this weekend. It’s always a great conference thanks to Rene Daman and her staff at the Oklahoma Autism Network.
Jen and I started the Pervasive Parenting Center to try and help bring resources to the area, and since most of you couldn’t attend the conference I thought I should share what I felt were the highlights with you. This is my way of trying to bring it all home to you.
In my commute to work each morning I listen to the Morning Animals, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear talk-show host Phil Inzinga open the conference and talk about his son and their experiences with autism. It helps to know that I’m not the only one having difficulty working with schools and raising my child on the spectrum.
The first keynote speaker was Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC -SLP. Winner has established the Social Thinking Center and helps develop social skills in students with social learning challenges.
I thought her presentation was great. One of the things she talked about was how the first thing we ask about a child is, “What is their diagnosis?” Then we treat them based on that diagnosis.
We should never label a child based on the diagnosis, especially when we know that no two people are alike. So she said, “Treat the child and not the label.” If you get caught up in their diagnosis we can miss something.
She also said to remember that while we’re teaching our children, or for teachers their students, we get hung up on the math and reading and forget that they are not learning social skills. As an example she explained that so many times in life, we as adults are hired for our skills.
We have qualifications, degrees, and references, but we are fired for our behaviors. This is one of the most overlooked parts of being a teacher because it has nothing to do with the standards that we worry so much about.
She also explained that social behavior is just a judgment. It’s all about what others deem inappropriate. We have to teach our children how people expect them to act in public so they can judge them as appropriate. I submit that we also need to help others understand acceptance in a slightly smaller standard. What I mean is…don’t be so quick to judge.
One of the breakout sessions I attended was a friend of mine, and a fellow Partners In Policymaking graduate, Ellen Hefner, who discussed a program she had worked on to help middle school students understand People First Language.
There was a panel of the students who discussed how they had developed skits and performed them to the school. These skits explained how words can hurt people, and how you should make sure that you are using appropriate language. It’s a learn-by-example style of program. The students said they were surprised by how quickly the other students took to the program. I really love this idea because kids don’t want to listen to a bunch of old people, but they will more likely listen if their peers say it.
The second day was supposed to kick off with a keynote speech by Temple Grandin’s mother Eustacia Cutler. However, she had an ear infection and was advised by her doctor not to travel. So as a last minute replacement Jan Moss, a mother of two adult children with disabilities, and a long-time advocate in the state, stepped in and did a great job. She told us a few stories about her children, but the lessons behind them were powerful.
She told about how her son with developmental disabilities had to have heart surgery once, and the doctors told her that she didn’t have to go through with the surgery. She asked, “Won’t he die if we don’t?” They said yes, and she knew they were saying, “This could be a better choice for him.”
Granted this was a few years back, but it’s the way of thinking for many. She went home and hid in her bed, which I’m sure many of us have done before, and when she asked her husband what they were going to do he replied, “All we have to do is love him.”
This is the truth. Anything else I write about boils down to those words. We have to do what is best for the child. That’s what I’m constantly saying, but that breaks down to just loving them. We just have to love them, each and every one.