Today I went to Brock's class for Autism Awareness Day. I didn't know what to expect knowing that there would be 8 to 10 kids who were autistic in the class.
This class has 8 to 10 students all of whom are severely autistic. Kindergarten through second grade is conducted within the one class room. There are at least 6 teachers and/or aids, almost 1 for each child. The class room is inside a public school and is publicly funded.
As we entered the class room, the first thing I noticed was that the lights were off. I had forgotten that most people with autism are sensitive to light, sounds, touch etc. Almost all the kids were barefoot. They all had shirts that they had previously decorated for this day.
Lissa, Brock's mom, and I walked up behind Brockers and said "Hi Brockers!" he stayed focused on his painting project. "Brock, hi!" Nothing. His teacher turned his head so he would see us and he got this look like "I know YOU! What are you doing HERE?" After it settled in, he got so excited, stood up, grabbed our hands and started jumping up and down. It was so fun to see that he was excited that we were there!!
He took us all around the room as if to show us all of the wonderful things the class room had to offer. He wore us like bracelets for the rest of the day! He wouldn't sit down at an activity unless there were two additional chairs for his mom and me.
I had expected kind of a general chaos, but when we arrived, all the kids were engaged in some sort of activity. There were 'stations' for painting, filling Easter eggs with rice or beans to make shakers, and my favorite was a table with bins for each child that contained an egg. Kids were encouraged to break the egg and feel the slimy, gooey, wet texture of the inside and the hard delicate outer shell. Of course many of the kids tried to eat the egg!
When is was snack time, they had a picture board where the kids were required to construct a sentence and vocalise that they wanted something to eat or drink. The picture squares were "I want" "Cookies" "To eat" "Please". Instead of cookies, they could put drink, candy etc. I had no idea Brock could construct and verbalise a sentence! His read like this "I want" "Cookie" "Please" "To eat". When he was done with his selection, he would raise his hand, reach for the board and repeat his request. Snacks were sugar cookies with yellow icing and sherbet in a cup with Sprite! Dee-lish!
Brock can speak which is to say he can say words, he just doesn't communicate. He can spell every name he encounters and will throw out numbers randomly. It's cute, you'll ask him if he wants hamburgers or nuggets and he'll reply "2, 3. 2, 3." We think numbers are code for things he really wants! ;)
Before recess, the kids are checked to see if they need their diapers changed. I don't think any of them can use the restroom on their own. Outside, Brock leads us to his favorite activities, the slide and swings! It was a blustery day, but it didn't matter!
When we get back inside, the kids take off their coats and one girl takes off her shirt too. Another child sees this and thinks it's a good idea so off comes his shirt! When shirts are all back on, the Kindergartners, about half of the class, are harnessed for the busses. They wear a harness that attaches to an apparatus on the seat of the buss so they aren't roaming around and stay safe. A couple of aids accompany them on the buss to keep all in order.
Of the kids who remain, some go to the computers and the rest of us dance to music as selected by DJ Brock! He knows all the songs by number and will get all the appropriate props for each song. Bubbles for "Bubbles in the Air", alphabet flip chart for "Sounds of the Alphabet" and then he grabs me as a dance partner for "Freeze". We hold hands and dance real silly until the music stops randomly throughout the song at which point we stop in motion and Brock whispers "FREEZE!" Two rounds of this and I was beat!
Throughout the day, a girl in Brock's class comes to sit on my lap. She snuggles up to me and looks closely into my eyes and just smiles. She doesn't talk, just grunts, shouts, hops and smiles. A couple of times the aids warn me that she will hit at any time. I think it's an affectionate thing, but she never did.
When it was time for me to go, I said "Bye Brockers". He flatly said "No." They had to distract him while I slipped out. I had a GREAT time with Brock in HIS environment, where HE is the normal one and I am a visitor in HIS world. I'm so glad he accepted me whole heatedly to be a part of HIS day.