Autism Awareness Month came into full bloom for me today while I was observing a student in a fourth grade classroom. As I entered the building, I noticed that the bulletin board prominently placed in the entryway read “AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH” in large letters. “Nice touch,” I thought to myself as I headed to the school office. I wondered if this made parents of kids with autism feel good, knowing the school was recognizing the month.
Although the bulletin board announced April’s focus on autism, the REAL awareness was happening in the delightful classroom I visited. The students were doing a “word study” on singular and plural nouns. Each student took a turn writing a noun on the board, and then asking a peer to write the plural next to it. Then, the class grouped the words according to the “rules” (adding “s”, changing the “y” to “i” and adding “es” and changing the spelling of the word, as in “child” and “children.”
The lesson was beautifully paced, with a mixture of teacher-directed and independent work. The teacher asked the students to go to their seats and write the words and plurals on a piece of paper, based on the “rules” they had deduced.
And this is where things really got good…
“English is tricky,” the teacher began. “Think of how many rules–and also exceptions to rules–we discover when we do word study! It makes me think about conversations I have had with people who are from other countries,” she continued. “Our spelling and grammar rules don’t make much sense sometimes. And think of our idioms! Expressions like ‘Let me give you a hand,’ or ‘let’s hit the road’ can be hard if the reader or listener doesn’t speak our language.”
She paused, letting this sink in. And then, she helped her students open a whole new window of awareness: “This is also true with people who have autism,” she said. “They can be really smart, but they might take things literally…and that is why it is really important, when you’re writing, to know your readers, and be sure you are writing in language they will understand.”
This wonderful teacher was taking autism awareness to a deeper level…beyond the bulletin board or newsletter blurb. She was imbedding it in her instruction and helping her students learn how think beyond themselves in order to include kids with differences: Know your reader.
Know your listener.
Know your students, neighbors, and church family…
Include them…And speak their language.