I was all excited recently to see a top 10 word list regarding autism and bullying. And I will admit that I was a little disappointed when I read the list. While I understand the desire to teach specifically students with autism what negative social things are out there, I don't find it helpful. So here's my Top 10 List, inspired by Good Friend's mission:
- Educate. I really don't believe that "kids are mean" cliché. I believe they're either ill-equipped with the proper knowledge of their differently-abled peers, or are lacking the proper social-emotional tools to be kind. In both cases, we as parents, professionals, and typically-developing peers need to educate others and ourselves.
- Empower. Once staff and students are trained to recognize bullying behavior or disability harassment, they need to be empowered to act. Give them the freedom, the infrastructure, and the tools to respond effectively.
- Advocate. Students with autism need to self-advocate to get their needs met and their wants known. Their classmates and educators need to advocate for them when they see them in distress.
- Believe. Believe in the abilities and the spirit of your student or friend with autism! Believe you can make a difference in his or her life!
- UPstander. Bystanders stand by when they see bullying or disability harassment. We hope you stand UP!
- Friend. One of the saddest statistics pervading the autism community is how few friends youth with autism believe they have. While establishing a friendship may be intimidating to typically-developing students, know this: Your classmate with autism requires surprisingly little of you; a high-five, a protective stance, an encouraging text message or note, or a once-a-month outing could be transformative.
- Unity. I know it sounds a little High School Musical, but we're all in this together. True story.
- Diversity. We're all different from one another. Difference isn't deficiency; it's diversity. Celebrate it!
- Ability. Focus on ability and not DISability. It requires a change of perspective and will make everyone feel more positive.
- Accept. This is is my most important word. Accept what you cannot change, such as differently-wired brains and all that comes along with them. Teach and support those with autism spectrum disorder; don't try to make them something/someone they aren't.
Forward this to your friends, teachers, and colleagues! Maybe focus on a word a week for the fall as community-building exercises. And let us know how it's going!