Insights from the Educator Panel at the Spectrum of Opportunity Conference: The Importance for Educators to Have a “Teachable Attitude”

The panel of educators at the Spectrum of Opportunity conference at California Lutheran University had two high school teachers, one elementary school teacher, a BI, Debbie Spengler, who you saw in Dillan’s two films in my last post, and it was led by Adrienne Johnston, who is an inclusion specialist for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I met her when I was just starting to get a general education in middle school. I was the first nonverbal autistic kid in general education. I was not behaving like a normal kid and I was trying so hard to get my opportunity to be educated. Mrs. Johnston was an expert in the school district and she came to observe me in class and right away she knew I had no business being in general education. I was so scared and my aide was alarmed. When I got home I told my mom what happened and she called Mrs. Johnston. After the conversation, Mom was sort of worried because pretty clearly Mrs. Johnston didn’t believe I was typing. My mom invited her to our house to get to know me better. To her great credit, she came. But more importantly, she had the ability to acknowledge what she saw; that I was really communicating by typing and that I thought for myself.

I don’t mind people having skepticism. It’s only natural and logical because outer autism makes us look inattentive, disengaged and infantile. How do people look at that and see our potential to be in general education, especially when they have been taught theories that interpret the outer behavior as a reflection of the inner world? So, Mrs. Johnston’s conversion to seeing that I was smart and that I did communicate was huge. Over night she became my ally within the school system, and my cheerleader. Her interacting with my teachers helped them to understand autism and to be open to teaching me, and this helped pave the path for my friend, Dillan, and other students with autism who entered general education. She bravely confesses that she “knew it all,” until she discovered she didn’t. But being open to learning a new way to look at autism made her a better expert than she ever imagined.

Below, Mrs. Johnston addresses why professionals must be open to learning.

I was a “doubter.” I was a special educator with all the knowledge of an expert, who had worked with students with autism for many years, and Ido had to prove to me that he was really communicating.  Ido was the first person I met who challenged my assumptions about autistic people.  I always assumed that what ‘these’ kids needed was an opportunity to be included and exposed to general education curriculum, but mainly for appropriate social skills modeling and learning alongside their peers, rather than actually gaining content knowledge of age and grade appropriate curriculum.  After all, how could a child with a severe presentation of autism (in Ido’s words, “a limited-verbal, hand-flapping oddball”) have such advanced cognitive and academic abilities?  Our students have to prove themselves over and over again because, let’s admit, seeing one thing and believing another about them is very difficult–  especially for us professionals who have built a “theory” of autism based on our interpretation of what we see!

Since I first met Ido, in August of 2010, and his mom invited me to his house to see his typing and discover for myself his true abilities, I have had the privilege to support several more students with autism who type to communicate.  I see it as my job to support students in general education classes and work with their teachers and administrators to explain what each student’s capabilities are and how each one is able to learn grade level curriculum if given the opportunity and individualized supports needed; specifically, the ability to communicate what
they know.  I have noticed that some educators have a tendency to place students like Ido in a “cookie cutter box,” (as I did) based on preconceived notions about students with autism.  If teachers will see “the Idos” in their classrooms as individuals and resist this need to put them in a limiting box, often disguised as compassion, there is a much greater chance that our students will be successful and prove themselves behaviorally and intellectually.

I can inform teachers about students’ needs, abilities and challenges but sadly, it is next to impossible to educate them about how to be kind or respectful.  What is critical is that teachers not necessarily know everything about the student, but are willing to learn and be open to the fact that difference is not deficiency!  In other words, it is ALWAYS safest and most respectful to make “the least dangerous assumption.”  Simply put, attitude changes everything!  In Ido’s words, “It really takes so little to be cheerful and warm and supportive to
a student, and what different results can be achieved!”

As you hear from the teachers on the panel, I think you will notice a theme:  each of these teachers is supportive, accommodating and believe in our students’ abilities despite their limitations.  These are key ingredients to any student’s success!  And, yes, I know it is challenging as I work with our kids every day and some days are not good…some days I doubt.  But, I remind myself how hard kids with a label of autism have to work, and the battle they have to fight to prove themselves – over and over again.  It takes great courage on their part to
work through their fears, obstacles and challenges that they face every waking minute of every day.

For example, one of my students typed recently when having a particularly difficult time sitting in class:

“My mind is going so fast. My head is moving all the time with thoughts and sounds. It’s so hard to focus. I may forget to be in control of my body and suddenly I’m in the trash eating something. I don’t know why I’m antagonistic. I just know that I lose focus and then I make bad decisions and I feel like my mind is not working. When I’m silly I don’t think I’m funny. I can’t settle down and my whole body goes crazy. My single-minded persona takes over and I get all bored and silly and I can’t stop laughing.”

When I asked if I could share his words to help teachers understand his behaviors, he said:

“Yes, I am feeling emotional. I am working on myself so much. I know I can be annoying but I want to be an inspiration for others. I am honored that you want to use my words and I am nervous about it but I want to be all that I can be.”

He, and all the students like him, are the reason I do what I do.  They are my inspiration!

In conclusion, what I have learned from students is that I need to listen to those I purport to teach and to their families who know them best.  How do I listen? Again, “attitude changes everything!”

* First, I must have an open attitude and let go of any preconceived notions about students with autism.  Like Ido has said, “people with autism are not all variations on a spectrum and do not fit in neat little boxes!”

* Second, I must have a teachable attitude, that is, acknowledge my need to learn
from my students.  Because once I learn to listen I can begin to listen to learn.

* Third, I must have an attentive attitude towards each individual’s needs and creatively look for opportunities to give non-verbal students ways to communicate.  I understand no method of communication will work for every student.  The challenge is to find some method for each student to have active participation and a voice in grade level curriculum.  Communication is a very basic human need.  The lack of it can lead to complacency, frustration, social withdrawal, or severe behavior creatively look for opportunities to give non-verbal students ways to communicate.

* Finally, I must have an expectant attitude and anticipate many, many more students  who will surprise us with their words of wisdom if given the chance!

I want to leave you with this quote from a boy with autism:
“To each autistic person living without a voice, I hope you find a person in your existence that will believe in you, try to connect with you, and most importantly, do it always with respect and belief in your abilities to think.”         Dillan

Dillan’s Voice

My good friend, Dillan, is now a movie star and a spokesman for autism! He is helping to educate the world to understand the truth about profound autism. Here are his amazing films.

Way to go Dillan!

Tips for Teachers Integrating a Nonverbal Student with Autism into their Class

My tenth grade English teacher, Amber Tesh, had never had a nonverbal, non-writing student in her class before. She said, in her speech at the Spectrum of Opportunity conference at Cal Lutheran University, that she already had more kids than she was supposed to have in her Honors English class when she was approached by a counselor asking if she could take on another student. “He’s really intelligent,” she told her, “Oh, and he has nonverbal autism and he communicates by pointing to letters.”

I had a great experience in her class because she connected directly to me, not my aide (called a BI,  behavioral interventionist, in her answers). Before she spoke on the educators panel at the Cal Lutheran conference she was asked to address the following questions and these are the answers she wrote out. I hope that her suggestions help other educators of neurotypical students who might be surprised to find themselves suddenly  dealing with something unfamiliar so that it can be a positive experience for everyone..

Below are the suggestions of Mrs. Tesh.

1.  What has worked?  What have you learned?

  • Speak to your class beforehand if possible. Ask the student (which I did with Ido) if he was okay with me talking to the class about why he typed and why he needed to communicate in that way. I think if we hide the obvious, the class becomes left out or confused, which in turn causes chaos. 
  • Relinquish control to the BI. Allow them to handle issues that might arise. Give them the control to excuse the student or step outside. Try not to step in or interfere with their job – even if you think “they CAN’T leave now!!!”
  • Form a relationship with the student and BI. It’s hard to wait for a student to type out an answer, especially if the entire class is eager to respond or are calling out. Have a special signal or gesture so that the teacher knows when the student is typing out an answer. Make it clear to the class if the wait is a bit longer than expected – I would often say, “I am waiting for Ido on this one” and the class just stopped and waited. 
  • Seat the student by the door if they need to step out or take a break. 
  • For the first few group activities (if you do group activities) – the teacher should form the groups. When students form groups they pair up with who they know and where they feel comfortable. Students get very uncomfortable quickly when they don’t know how to act in a certain situation or with a certain person. For many students in your class, this might be the first time they have been in a class with someone with autism or someone who types. Their first reaction is going to be to group up with friends, and then students get left out. Once students realize how smart and communicative the student is, they are eager to form groups. This happened with Ido. After a few weeks, I had people asking him to join their group. 
  • Allow the student to finish things at home. Certain things are just too hard to get done in a class period. 
  • Ask the student “enough” questions to ensure they got it. Then you will feel okay with them finishing at home.  

2.  What supports do YOU need/find helpful/valuable to YOUR success?

  • A good BI
  • A place for them to go to work if it’s not the best day or need extra time
  • A strong support system at home
  • A strong counseling staff that places the student where he/she would be most successful
  • Information about previous classes – what worked and what didn’t?
  • Advice on how to give / space out / time assignments (might come from IEP, counselor, BI, inclusion specialist)

3.  What advice do you have for other teachers? students? administrators?

  • Teachers – #1 is giving it a chance. As teachers we tend to be scared or thrown off by the unexpected or what we don’t know – and to be honest, having a student who types to communicate is a bit unexpected and scary. If we are nervous about something before we even try it, we tend not to do the best job. So, if teachers just give it a chance it’s actually just everyday business.
  • Teachers – As said in question #1 – talk to your students. There is no point in hiding the obvious. It might not be the most comfortable conversation, but they have to be able to recognize and accept differences.
  • Teachers – Make sure you feel comfortable that the student is actually doing the work. My biggest challenge was “Is Ido actually doing this writing / work”?  I mean you have this young man, who at first didn’t participate at all and would often times have to step out of class for long periods of time – and then he would turn in this work that even my brightest honors kids couldn’t do. So you have to come to a confident place that they are listening to you and completing the work on their own – even if someone else might be writing it down for them.  *Ido note: This is handled by observing the student communicating, typing and answering questions. It also becomes clear by relating directly to the student in conversation and questions and answers, but at first it is a novel experience for the teacher and seeing that the student is communicating is essential for teacher confidence.
  • Administrators – need to talk to their teachers. Ask them which class would be the best for the student. Lets be honest, as teachers there are just certain classes that are better or more “equipped” then others. 

 

 

Words from the Parent Panel at Spectrum of Opportunity Conference

Here is another speech from the Spectrum of Opportunity conference at Cal Lutheran University. This is a speech from the parent panel. My good friend’s mother, Barbara Johnson, had the courage to tell her story. Her son was with me in remedial autism class when we were small and no one knew how much was inside. I am happy to say he is at last able to express his thoughts. His story tells parents to not give up, even if your kid has grown to adulthood.

Good afternoon.  My name is Barbara Johnson and I have the
privilege of being the mother of two sons, Chad and Connor Johnson,
both of whom have autism.  My son, Chad, is the focus of my speaking
today however, because he is typing with a keyboard and his IPad
utilizing the Proloquo voice feedback word program for communication
and academics.

I was asked to speak today because Chad basically started typing
meaningful communication and academics at 18 years old. He is now
20.  Chad did began typing earlier with me and with his home therapy
program provided by Verdugo Hills Autism Project using an Alpha
Smart keyboard,  but most of the typing consisted of nouns– usually
what we were having for dinner, or his name, address and phone
number.  He did not progress much from there, because looking back
now I believe we were not emphasizing the typing enough.

Chad had been using PECS most of his time at home and in
school because it seemed to be the only form of communication other
than verbal that appeared to connect with him and what he also
initiated with.  He tried typing and sign language when he was very
young, but these forms of communication at the time did not seem to
register well.  I truly believed they did not make sense to him.

I was informed by the experts, that Chad had severe receptive language
difficulties and that was the reason why he would not always respond
correctly to ABA drills or requests I made of him.  The many books
and articles I researched only backed up this theory.  It was described
to me with the analogy of a radio receiving static, sometimes the
message comes through, and sometimes it doesn’t.  I have never
doubted Chad’s intelligence, and I have always known he is extremely
bright.

If only I had realized Chad’s body was not responding to what his
brain was telling him to do, this theory of receptive language problems
would not have shaped how I pursued his education and therapy.
What is so ironic and upsetting is that a great deal of Chad’s learning
had been and continues to be auditory; he has understood everything
all along.  The experts were wrong, I was wrong.

I have dear friends in Tami Barmache and Tracy Kedar who
encouraged me to pursue the typing communication with Chad.  I still
had my doubts because of past experience, but I started to inquire
more.  The pivotal moment for me that changed my perspective was
speaking directly with Ido Kedar.  Chad and Ido have been friends
since they were about 6 years old. They both met in an autism class in
elementary school.   I was talking and crying to Tami and Tracy about
pursuing the typing and I was feeling like I had failed Chad and had him
on the wrong path for years.  Ido approached and typed on a letter
board to me that I was a very good mother to Chad and I had been
given the wrong information, that is was not my fault.  Well, I totally
broke down after that, but it changed things forever for me and for
Chad.

The meaningful typing initially started at school with the assistance
of Verdugo Hill’s BID, Cheryl Umali and BII, Jim Rodehaver.  Chad
has used the letter board and IPad, but he prefers the IPad because
he can see what he is typing and can also utilize the word bank.  He
required a great deal of support in the beginning, but over time the
support has greatly diminished. Tracy Kedar also worked with Chad using the letter board to teach him to point independently without being touched.  This helped Chad have more ease with the keyboard with less support.  Chad also
receives communication therapy once a week through REACH with
Katie Anawalt and Lindsey Goodrich.

For the first time Chad is fully included in general education in high school.  He is on an alternate curriculum. However, so far he has not had modifications in the academics, only accommodations for his typing and additional time requirements.

Chad was previously in the autism class for almost his entire
education, mainstreaming only for electives or going to a vocational
campus for a job skills program for a couple of periods during the day.
Ever since Chad started the academic general education curriculum
this last August, his writing has greatly improved surprising everyone
around him.

I have tried to encourage other parents to investigate typing for their
children because it has been life changing for our family.  For the first
time, my husband Chris and I are hearing Chad’s voice and his
opinions.  We do not have to guess anymore what he wants, we can
ask him and he can reply.  Many parents have conveyed to me that
Chad, Ido and Dillan are exceptional and their child cannot do the
same.  Every child with autism is exceptional because they are the
bravest souls I have ever met, but Chad, Ido and Dillan are no
different from your children, students, or clients.  Other people with
autism can also be successful using typing communication; they just
have to be exposed to the same opportunities. Most of all, you have to
believe in their intelligence, perceptiveness, understanding of
language, concepts, and emotions. Do not let their physicality get in
the way of you believing in them.

In closing I am going to read something Chad wrote in his government
class that I believe says it all.

A cause that is very important that I think of is the rights of people
without voices.  I have autism and I don’t talk.  That makes it hard for
people to know I can think and learn.  So I and other do not get true
education.  We cannot help ourselves to speak up.  But we
deserve a fair chance to learn real knowledge.

Words from a College Student with Autism

My good friend, Samuel Capozzi, wrote this fine and informative speech for the all-day conference on nonverbal autism held at California Lutheran University last weekend. I am delighted to share his powerful message.

Samuel gradI once read that “God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad of our greatest calling.” I believe this is true in my young life. Good morning, my name is Samuel Capozzi, and I’m a freshman at Cal State Channel Islands
in Camarillo. I am also pleased to be on the board of Autism Society, Ventura County. I have a diagnosis of moderate autism, and I’m considered non-speaking and non-writing. I only began typing to communicate about four years ago. A lot has happened in that short span! As a matter of fact, my entire life changed.

My communication breakthrough happened in the middle of high school. At that time, I was unable to expressively communicate all that I was taking in, all that I learned, and all that I hoped to achieve. I was reading Dick and Jane readers and doing double digit addition at 16 years old. This was a dark, dark time for me. After more than sixteen years of silence, I felt like I might never be heard, like I might never be understood, and like I might be treated as a toddler
for the rest of my life. To say that my hope was realized in May of 2012 would be a huge understatement!

I think it’s important to know that I didn’t suddenly learn everything with RPM, I was learning all along. I’m thankful my mom read to me at higher levels and showed me educational videos. I also did a lot of incidental learning. It’s a very hard thing to be deprived of rich, age-level learning experiences—experiences most people take for granted.

Life changed when my faithful parents took me to Austin, Texas to learn RPM—the method I use to communicate. Needless to say, many tears were shed in the Capozzi home upon the realization that not only do I understand what is being said, but that I also have excellent reasoning skills and a keen sense of humor!

I decided to stay an extra year in high school to earn a diploma and to become a college-bound student. With hard work and many sacrifices by my loved ones and me, I did it! My favorite class was Latin, and I enjoyed taking the National Latin Exam. I managed to score Maxima Cum Laude two years in a row. My school challenged the students to “Do Hard Things”, so I did, but not only for myself. You see, I understand that my success is my misunderstood and marginalized peers’ success as well.

My remaining high school years were jam-packed with academics which I thrived on! I was even my Mock Trial team’s journalist. It was a whirlwind of an experience, as I responded unusually quick to learning RPM. My high school counselor and teachers were extremely excited about and supportive of my new found means of communication. This was so important as I ‘spread my wings’ in my new world of communication, conversation, and academics. My Latin teacher
took a real interest in my journey, and this made me feel so supported and encouraged. She even read Ido’s book out loud to her family! Just one teacher can make a big difference.

By God’s grace and pure grit, I graduated with honors and managed to take the SAT. Not only was arranging for the necessary accommodations difficult and time-consuming, but I also sat for the test for over 6 hours! So did my friend, Ido. Nonetheless, I am thankful the College Board was willing to work with us on this because I know it will benefit others who face complex communication challenges in the future, and hopefully some of you here today!

As our understanding of autism evolves and increases, I am optimistic that accessing an appropriate education won’t be as challenging for others who communicate differently.

I was accepted at all three universities that I applied to, including Cal Lutheran, and offered scholarships based on academic merit and community service. In the end, I chose Channel Islands because I believe they were the best prepared for a student like me. Go, Dolphins!

Since attending CI, I love learning, walking the halls of a university, and obtaining higher education. As I understand it, I am CI’s first non-speaking, non-writing student. I simply can’t say enough about Disability Resource Programs at CI. I am truly embraced, and my presence is celebrated on campus. It’s a nice change! What inspires me most is my professors’ delighted
responses and even shocked responses when they hear my cogent answers and read my strong essays. I hope to pioneer a path for other students who communicate differently that may come after me. Knowing this helps me forge on when I become overwhelmed!

Life with autism is challenging and difficult in ways most of you could never understand. So, my efforts in high school and now that I’m in college are hopefully not only for my benefit but also for the benefit of my peers and society as a whole.

Autism is now a big part of our society with the prevalence at 1 in 68 births. With what we know, now is the time to re-think autism and give it a new face. Yes, life with autism has caused some of my deepest pain; however, living victoriously with autism is also my greatest calling. I am profoundly grateful to have meaningful communication, and I hope that I have helped some of
you to better understand its importance for everyone.

The Autstronaut

The-Martian-4

 

 

 

 

I watched the movie, The Martian, last weekend. I found it challenging to sit through initially. I felt the astronaut’s isolation from people so deeply. People may watch this movie for its adventure and ultimate triumph over adversity. This is true. The hero doggedly persevered, problem solving and focusing on challenges rather than on his feelings. It is pretty much the only way to overcome insurmountable obstacles.

For those who haven’t seen the film, it tells the tale of an astronaut left behind by his crew, alone on Mars. Due to a sudden storm they had to preempt their expedition and they erroneously believed he had died. His job was to survive until he could be rescued, which meant getting enough food and water to live, and staying sane.

My perception of his experience is skewed because of my own isolation due to autism. With autism I may as well be on Mars sometimes because the inability to talk is isolating. It creates a barrier from other people because I may think ideas but I can’t speak them. Yes, I type, but it’s slow compared to speech or I may not have access to typing the instant I want. So, I feel like I’m on Mars–not the way Temple Grandin described in Oliver Sacks’ book, An Anthropologist on Mars, in which she said she couldn’t understand human behavior. That is her point of view from her Asperger’s brain.

My Mars is like the astronaut’s. I understand people, but I’m going to have to get nearer to them. In his case he had to make water, grow food and find equipment to travel, all while combating loneliness and discouragement. He had hope and he had trust in himself. This is essential. My Mars is similar in that I must battle against giving up or even feeling sorry for myself because these are the emotions that hurt progress most. In so many ways autism is like being stranded on another planet alone, but it is possible to problem solve to get closer to “earth.” The problem with autism is the initiation deficit. Unlike the astronaut in the film, we cannot move on our own ideas consistently or independently. But, like him we can set many small goals and doggedly work on overcoming our obstacles.

It is obvious to me that being able to control our response to feelings is enormously important. It is necessary to not rage against or fight the forces that are beyond our control. The astronaut probably would not have survived if he had raged against his crewmates or despaired his unique isolation, but he instead focused on doing and solving. Doing and solving in autism involves gaining control over motor movements and impulses as well as control over intense emotion. Each problem can be worked incrementally. It may be slow going but in time the “aut-stronaut” may be able to come home.

 

 

 

Cooking with Autism

I have enjoyed watching TV chefs for years. My favorite is the charming French-American chef, Jacques Pepin. His helpful instructions gave me the confidence to help in the kitchen. Most days I assist my parents in meal preparation. I peel vegetables, chop, stir and do whatever is needed. I also enjoy baking. I love eating the finished products. I also prepare my own breakfast of eggs and toast.

My efforts in the kitchen have produced great results for me. I have gotten much better control in getting my body to correctly follow commands. I am a million times better at retrieving requested food items on demand and searching for them. I am noticing my ability to sustain attention in the kitchen is lengthening, but that is still a work in progress. I see improvements in fine motor too due to using my hands for chopping, peeling, opening cans and so on.

Cooking is also a good opportunity to work on self control and impulsivity. I need to learn to not sample the raw cookie batter, no matter how tempting.

People with autism need to be part of normal life and gaining kitchen skills may be a great way activity to teach participation in the kinds of activities that everyone does.

Emotional Self Regulation and Autism

In autism there is so much work to be done by professionals, by parents and by those of us with autism. I myself struggle daily to do normal things. It isn’t easy to deal with an environment that is visually and auditorally stimulating to a painful level. So my work is on enduring the environmental challenges while appearing cool, calm and collected. The never ending challenge for someone with  a fragile sensory system is that ordinary activities may take extraordinary effort to navigate successfully. Getting oneself able to do this consistently is a big deal because living fully is the goal. Clearly  practice is how one’s tolerance for situations that are challenging improves, but this can be more than tough for parents who have to walk into a behavioral minefield again and again not knowing what will, or may, set off their kid because  outbursts may be consistent or not clearly consistent in cause.

Professionals guess quite often why a person who has autism is acting in a particular way. Guesswork is natural but it is not reliable. This is because the forces that are at play in autism are still not known. So, the guesses may help or they may make things much worse. Nevertheless, working on self regulation and tolerating a wide variety of settings is much more essential than many other goals in autism treatment.

Sensory Processing Issues in Autism

In autism so many things are our of whack it’s a pretty full-time job just making it through the day. I’ve described the motor problems, especially between mind and body. Now I’d like to address some issues related to sensory processing.

We have the major senses of sight, hearing and touch. I love taste and smell, but obviously they are not the primary senses. Soma includes kinesthesia, or movement, as a kind of sense. It includes body awareness. Normal sensory processing is generalized, meaning it is adaptable and can cope in a variety of contexts. It is what you do automatically. For example, if you converse in a noisy room you automatically tune out the background din, but a person whose auditory processing is global is blasted equally by all sounds. Then processing become overload. On the other hand, a person who micro processes might get locked into tuning  into the same sounds over and over. Sometimes people who are overloaded due to global processing  may try to cope by obsessively listening to micro-selective, familiar tunes.

The same applies to sight. You focus near, far, or on what’s necessary while ignoring non critical sights. The TV program, Brain Games, showed how normal brains are fooled easily in visual processing. We call it optical illusions, but it’s really proof of our processing selectivity. In fact, our brain is selective to protect us from overload. But when our brains can’t control the overload, which can happen with autism, we can be overwhelmed or scattered in perception or alternatively, we can pick a minute visual target to distract and comfort us. I am guessing you know people who have watched the same movie or cartoon thousands of times to cope with sensory overload, though it may be beyond boring.

I do believe these skills improve with practice. Mine have  very much, but it is a lot of work to change this kind of neurological pattern. However, I have hope in neurological plasticity and in the determination to improve.

Paving the Path by guest blogger, Dillan Barmache

Dillan and Ido

Dillan and Ido

Ido has been a figure of importance for those of us on a journey to find our voices. I have known him a long time, and he has given me advice, hope and footsteps to follow in my time as a communicator. I don’t know if I would have had the same success now that I have achieved in my struggle against silence without him to forge a path before us. I would like to think I could have, and I wonder how much it must have been so frightening to make those paths without his own guide ahead. Ido gave me a lot when he had so many of his own trials to face. We all have to fight so hard to beat autism, a school system that doesn’t know what to do with us, and expert behaviorists who denounce our accomplishments as a hoax. Ido still found it in himself to take the time to help me in this struggle, and he even wrote to me in his book. I hope a younger version of me can look at my story and I can do for him what Ido has done for me.

The process of bringing true education to people with autism is as complex as the condition itself. In my school, Ido was first down that road, and I was able to look at his experience and know the challenges ahead and what mistakes to avoid. And further down the road, the next student will be able to refine the process. We keep building and learning how to learn. There will never be a perfect way, and that is good. Always adapting is the perfect way, and Ido began that all in my school. It is most important to be open to knowing that there are undiscovered modes of learning. Already many teachers are fixed in their ways and unwilling to admit to a need for change. Our presence in the classroom will show them an example they cannot ignore. I am grateful to Ido for being the first of hopefully many.