link to previous post: https://thepoliticsofreading.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/teaching-him-to-read-pt-5-interventions/
April is Autism Awareness (and Acceptance) Month. I don’t want to stray too far from the topic of literacy, but I came across this important video today. Sesame Street has just introduced Julia, a character with autism. I was a bit skeptical when I clicked on the link because I had no idea how they’d manage to portray autism through a puppet. Sesame Street really nailed it, though. It also turns out that the puppeteer’s son has autism. Sesame Street included many key autistic behaviors, such as:
- echolalia (repeating something back to someone)
- example: Alan asks, “Can Big Bird see your painting?” Julia responds, “See your painting, yes!”
- Notice that Julia says “your” even when she means “my.” I touched on this phenomenon a bit in my post about teaching my brother function words.
- hand flapping
- responding differently to social cues
- example: Julia seems to ignore Big Bird’s greeting at first.
- stimming (self-stimulation, which can include talking to oneself)
- carrying a comforting object around
- example: Julia finds comfort in her stuffed bunny. My brother has found comfort in small toys/objects before too.
- sensory overload
- example: Julia gets overstimulated when she hears a siren. She covers her ears and needs to go take a break from playing.
The episode ends with everyone singing a song to celebrate people’s differences. In this class, we’ve had many discussions about how to address social justice issues early on. (Julio Cammarota’s talk went deeper into the matter of social justice in the classroom.) The general consensus of these discussions was that we not only need to trust children more with what they can handle, but it’s also vital to instill certain values early. Although Sesame Street isn’t part of the school day, it is definitely educational. I’m hopeful that the show’s inclusion of an autistic character will help contribute to a more aware and open-minded generation. That thinking may be too idealistic, but I believe that children’s shows are more powerful than we think.
Focusing back in on my brother, I think his journey in literacy is about to improve drastically. This could just be the idealism striking again, but I am optimistic nonetheless. He is getting a service dog tomorrow, after waiting nearly a year, to help manage his epilepsy. Nearly 1/3 of people with autism also have epilepsy, and my brother’s seizures have been very difficult. I mentioned in my introduction post that his seizures have been a major setback in his literacy. They erased progress that he’d made over years, but it’s risky to really try reading with him again. When he concentrates for too long, it is taxing. He becomes much more vulnerable to a seizure. If the service dog performs her duties, though, she will be able to alert us when a seizure is coming on. This means that we now can feel safer in many reading-related activities, such as:
- Doing his reading program on the computer
- Typing on the iPad
- Practicing handwriting
- Sitting down to read a long book, like Dr. Seuss
Josh hasn’t been able to engage in activities 1 & 2 because screens are a seizure trigger. 3 & 4 don’t involve screens, but these activities tend to be exhausting for him, which can also cause a seizure. Having a service dog will likely be quite an adjustment, but I can’t wait to explore the reading opportunities that she will afford us.
Regarding taking the dog to school, August has an awesome post that relates: