So today I put a toaster and a hair dryer into a duffel bag and headed to Joey's school. I think it went OK. The room was both Joey's inclusion class and his self-contained friends, minus Joey and his friend D, who is also autistic. We talked about toast and drying hair and the fact that Joey is learning about toasters just as they were learning about hair dryers. We talked about the fact that Joey was born a hair dryer, and that you can't turn toasters into hair dryers or hair dryers into toasters, that hair dryers are not "sick". We talked about communication, and anxiety, and things Joey doesn't do well that his classmates think nothing of doing, and things Joey does well (en chorus: "MATH!"), and how one might cope with anxiety and fear when one cannot speak well. We talked about Joey's need for consistency and predictability, and why he might not like sudden movements or loud noise. We talked abut echolalia and ways Joey copes with his world using sound and behavior. We talked about how autism affects Joey (such as speech, movement, and being able to make friends), and how it doesn't (such as intelligence and desire to make friends). We talked about how important they, as Joey's friends and classmates, are to Joey. We talked about why he is good at math and spelling and video games. We talked about why he sometimes needed a break away from people or in a room with a computer. We even had a young lady decide she was curling iron.
One of the Big Questions was "Does autism hurt?" It isn't a question I have a ready answer to. I don't know the answer. Does it hurt? How do you define "hurt"? Does being overwhelmed and uncomfortable "hurt"? Does constant frustration "hurt"? When Joey processes sensory stimuli differently, it could very well hurt. He talks about not liking to read because it "hurts." I didn't give a straight answer, but instead talked about ways Joey may feel things and understand things differently than other people. We talked about how it might feel to be overwhelmed all the time. We even talked about what "overwhelmed" means. We talked about how Joey uses language and words, and what it could mean when he says something "hurts." It isn't a yes or no question, really.
One of the kids asked if Joey took medication. Mrs. C and I explained that Joey does not take medication for autism, he takes medication for anxiety; that is, he had medicine that keeps him from feeling scared and overwhelmed all the time. Another question was what happens when he doesn't take his medication; and we noted he would be grumpy and anxious, so they would likely notice. However, most people feel grumpy or anxious sometimes, anyway. But it is a hard question to answer; how much do you reveal about Joey without him knowing you are telling people? What will third graders do with this information? Will they tell him to take medicine every time he gets grumpy?
The the biggest question was what to do about all the unanswered questions. I was really pleased that the kids were all very interested in Joey, from the Big Questions to little connections, like asking what video games Joey plays and does he have a Wii? Joey is important to these kids, just as they are important to Joey. And seriously, that rocks.