When school started this year, I knew that I wanted to sit down with Eddie’s class early on. I wanted to explain those unique attributes that Eddie possesses due to his blindness. Sometimes, out of learned politeness, children are afraid to ask questions about Eddie because they don’t know if it’s “OK.” I wanted to make sure, from day one, that there was always an open dialogue about his blindness and his autism behaviors.
I began by explaining the obvious differences. We talked about braille and tactile graphics, and the kids passed around some of Eddie’s favorite books. Then, we talked about his cane, and how it is a helpful tool. We also had to talk about guide dogs, because kids naturally go there next. One child even brought up the concept of a guide pony, which surprisingly does exist.
The kids that shared Eddie’s classroom last year were quick to add knowledge that they had learned by observing him over the past year. For example, when I began discussing some of Eddie’s behaviors related to Autism, I mentioned that he throws tantrums sometimes. One student said, “Yeah, and he’s really loud.” I had to agree, because Eddie can get really loud.
I then explained that he gets so upset because some things that we don’t even notice, can be painful for him. I said that when he usually gets mad, it is because he can’t tolerate a certain sound, or something is hurting him that we don’t understand. I told the kids that it wasn’t quite the same as when they got upset if they didn’t get their way; that Eddie was actually hurting sometimes and he just can’t tell us why.
It is hard enough to explain Autism to adults, so I wasn’t sure how to easily explain it to the kids. However, when I mentioned that sometimes Eddie hurts, one little boy looked at me like I was missing the obvious. He quickly added, “Why doesn’t he just take an ibuprofen?” I couldn’t help but laugh as I told him that it just wasn’t that easy for Eddie, however, thanks for the advice.
Even though I know these kids won’t fully grasp the extent of Eddie’s differences in the first grade, I think it’s important to get the conversation started. Not only did I explain some things, but I added some tips for them to use to talk to Eddie. For example, I explained that he can’t see them on the playground, so it helps if they say “Hi” to him first. These little ideas will help them realize that Eddie is just a kid like them, and will give them opportunities to include him, when maybe they don’t know how.