By: Guest Blogger
April is Autism Awareness Month, and Ohio has a longstanding history of promoting awareness about autism spectrum disorder. Throughout the month, you’ll likely see hundreds of blogs, articles, commercials and social media posts that share information, facts and stories about autism. While sharing this information is important and has significantly contributed to society becoming more aware of autism, we must continue to push ourselves toward a culture of acceptance and inclusivity.
Awareness vs. Acceptance
Acceptance is about taking conscious action and shifting from not only seeing and recognizing that autism exists, but seeking to listen and learn and then adapting our perspectives and behaviors. What does that look like? Understanding and being aware of autism means knowing that autism is a developmental disability that impacts each person differently. This commonly includes a wide variety of unique strengths and challenges in the areas of behavioral, sensory processing, social and emotional regulation. You also may be aware that students with autism may separate themselves from a group of peers or exhibit repetitive behaviors from time to time. But do you know what triggers certain responses from individuals or how to help a student based on his or her needs? Just knowing the facts will not necessarily lead to acceptance or creating inclusive and supportive environments in our schools, communities and relationships.
Acceptance exemplifies the Platinum Rule — treating others the way they want to be treated — which accounts for accommodating the feelings of others and accepting our differences. By moving toward acceptance, we can inspire new ideas that motivate us to continue to ensure students with disabilities can live their best lives for their whole lives. While progress is being made in schools across Ohio and the country, we know there is more to do — more doors that need opened and more perspectives and approaches that need shifted.
What Educators Can Do to Promote Acceptance
1. Share resources with colleagues and families. The Many Faces of Autism is a free, online video designed to dispel common misconceptions through the experiences of people with autism.
2. Gain insights from people with autism. Encourage people or students with autism to share their various perspectives on what is important for them to be part of the community or school. Or, invite the parents of students with autism to speak at a professional learning session with your staff. Many times, hearing varying perspectives firsthand is powerful and eye-opening.
3. Dispel labels. Encourage inclusivity by having staff and students address a person by his or her name, not a label. This is equally important when support teams are talking about a student who isn't in their presence.
4. Continue to listen, learn and share. The more information and knowledge you can learn and intentionally share about autism spectrum disorder, the better.
At OCALI, our mission is to inspire change and promote access to opportunities for people with disabilities. Over the years, we have been committed to working hard to promote and embrace a culture of awareness and acceptance — with our staff and those we serve around Ohio. While we have made significant progress, we have more work to do, and we continue to explore and learn new ways of listening, understanding and modeling.
As educators, parents and family members, we ALL play a role in inspiring the change we wish to see. Throughout the month of April, we encourage you to seek opportunities that promote acceptance in your own schools and communities. Let’s learn, grow and build a culture of acceptance together.
For additional resources, visit the Autism Center and OCALI’s Lending Library. You also can check out the following resources:
This post was developed by the team of experts at OCALI, under the leadership of Executive Director Shawn Henry. OCALI, which is based in Ohio, is a recognized global leader in creating and connecting resources and relationships to ensure people with disabilities have opportunities to live their best lives for their whole lives.
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By: Wendy Grove
Each Child, Our Future, Ohio’s strategic plan for education, highlights the importance of early childhood. Strategy number 8 of the plan seeks to expand quality early learning. Recently, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recognized the importance of early childhood when he proclaimed April 2019 as “Month of the Young Child” and April 8-12, 2019, as “Week of the Young Child.” In this proclamation, all Ohioans are encouraged to promote education and school readiness for our youngest citizens. This is wonderful news for those of us who work with, care for or think about how to best support children as they grow and learn. The science is clear about the first years of life and how much early experiences impact how the brain grows.
In this time, we are celebrating the state’s parents of young children. Everything you do has the potential to positively impact how ready your child is when he or she starts school. Education, indeed, starts at birth! Parents and caregivers are children’s first and most significant teachers. You may be wondering what you should expect of your child at certain ages. The state’s early childhood programs have placed information about developmental milestones and resources where you can find information in one place based on the age of your child from pregnancy to early school years. As infants and toddlers, children who have the opportunity to practice language develop it faster. Singing, talking and engaging your baby will not make you look silly; you are building your baby’s brain! Keeping your baby safe and attending to his needs helps him build a connection and attachment to you. As these videos from the Broadcast Educational Media Commission show, early literacy can happen anywhere, from parks to museums and grocery stores to home child care!
During the Month of the Young Child in Ohio, we also are celebrating educators of young children. Whether your young child spends the day at child care, staying with family or a neighbor, or is at home with mom or dad, the adult who cares for her fills a critical role in her development and learning. For early care and education outside of the familial home, the state has identified a set of quality criteria, so parents can make informed decisions about the early childhood setting. Providers of early care and education are rated between one and five stars in Step Up To Quality. Five-star rated is the highest quality rating a provider can achieve. It means the provider demonstrated it provides a healthy and safe environment, but also one with highly qualified teachers and a lower number of children per teacher. To learn more about quality providers near you, go here.
Each interaction with a young child is an opportunity to encourage, support and further develop his learning. Starting school ready to learn is important! Research has shown that starting school ready predicts later school performance. Providing opportunities to practice being active, talking, getting along with others and exploring creativity and curiosity does not have to cost money. Backyards and parks are filled with changes to learn about science. Going on errands can be a chance to develop math and literacy skills. Going where other children are will give your child the chance to learn from and teach others about being kind, sharing and getting along with others.
As we spring into April, we celebrate the most important job of parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, librarians and adults who have the opportunity to support young children. Embrace your influence and the many opportunities there are to support early learning! The next generation of Ohioans who will enter school, and the workforce, are depending on you!
Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.
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