I work as an Educational Assistant in a High School. I work with teenagers who have special needs, mainly autistic kids. I have advocated for people, who had been had been excluded from society, for 40 years. When I graduated from college at aged 19, parents were encouraged to put their son or daughter in a “hospital” by their doctors, at birth. Their child “would never amount to anything so just put them away where they would be better cared for” was the philosophy. It seems like something from the dark ages, not 1976! I worked in one of these government institutions for 5 years.
Things have improved significantly over my career with the closing of these large institutions, placing the residents in group homes in the community and then not opening any new ones so that kids are raised in their homes with their families and attend regular school, as it should be. This does not mean that they are accepted by everyone, however. There are still people who are ignorant and simply don’t understand.
The problem lies when it’s the people in the school (where I have worked for 28 years) who are the ones who don’t “get” it. They try to tell me I’m not doing it right or that I should be doing it differently. When you work with kids who have autism, you usually do things their way. They don’t like change and often get stuck. You really have to be very flexible and “go with the flow”. That doesn’t mean there are no rules. There are many rules and you have to teach the student they must follow them. This takes time and empathy. It doesn’t always go as we might hope. We just keep trying.
Those of us who know and love autistics, as I have recently learned they prefer to be called, use a lot of humor and acceptance. We laugh a lot and enjoy the way they do things. It’s quite different from the way we would do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that it needs to be corrected. This is where understanding needs to happen. It has come a long way but it has a long way to go.