I was a teenager when I watched the film ‘Big’ for the first time. In this film, the soul of a child, Josh (Tom Hanks) moves into an adult body and he is working for a toy factory as a “gamer”.
I also used to daydream many times about having to play as a job. And it became reality. Today, a part of my wage is paid for playing with children who are referred to my group of autists by committees assessing learning capacity in Debrecen or in Mátészalka, Hungary.
I can imagine that parents with autistic child dream about a miracle that would make autism disappear as if by magic.
Miracles similar to that in the film are rare to happen. In my view it would already be a miracle if all children with autism would enjoy high quality development as of September. These parents wish for very simple things: a mother would like to go shopping for the weekend unobtrusively with her daughter, a father would like to go to a handball match with his son, a brother would like to take his younger brother to the sandlot. Most of these wishes can be fulfilled, if experts are contacted in due time.
I know parents who would rather not go to the playground so that they can prevent their autistic child from attracting attention with his/her behaviour and being the target of staring and suspicious looks. But this takes the development into the wrong direction. I hereby disclose to them that the best autism specific method against problem behaviour is prevention.
The high-functioning 15-year old autistic girl removed from a flight in the United States a couple of weeks ago must have enjoyed very good treatment in her early years because, as her mother said, the pilot’s decision was merely the result of the lack of hot food. If I had been her pedagogue I would have taught more “lessons” on reducing the causes of her bursts of anger by which this unpleasant incident could have been avoided – even more so knowing that they are frequent flyers.
On the day following the emergency stop, I got on a flight to Cologne with my colleague (who is also my wife) and four autistic pupils of ours and then to a train to Solingen. We spent three memorable days at our Comenius partner school. We planned our programmes in a way that any primary school kids would have revelled in it, except for maybe the math class which is, by the way, especially preferred by our kids. We also joined the math and PE classes of the German students. We visited a scissor museum in Solingen, a chocolate museum and the cathedral in Cologne. Climbing up 533 steps in the south tower of the cathedral represented a challenge even for me.
They got about unobtrusively. They acted as “normal” 8–10-year old children would do: they were smiling, got tired, were astonished, sometimes whined and got surprised. The only thing that might have attracted attention was their ‘agenda’ hanging around their neck and containing also our contacts just in case.
The ‘wings’ for this trip were given by Tempus Public Foundation. In our application student mobility was not a compulsory element. But, considering the title of our project "‘I am cross – what now?’ Development of behavior management strategies for students on the Autistic Spectrum", I thought I could assess my work and the children and give evidence to their parents by testing ourselves in real life, in real situations.
I value it as a considerable achievement. I am proud of where my pupils got to and that I managed to achieve all these. I believe that they will remember this trip throughout their whole life. This can be a good example as best practice for pedagogues and parents alike. “Miracle” in autism can be achieved through long, well designed and steady work.
I believe it is important for the society to become more acquainted with autism. And, again, for parents I recommend to contact an expert in due time so that their autistic child can live as independent an adult life as possible.
Marti and Robert
special needs teachers in the field of autism spectrum condition (ASC)