My journey in the field of Autism may have started differently than most but nonetheless I am on the journey. 15 years ago I was returning from an 18 month church assignment in Venezuela. I had graduated from college and had planned to become a child advocate. Little did I know what form that advocacy would take. Before heading to grad school I took a position as a teacher, where I received my first work related injury- a black eye from trying break up a fight. I left that situation with 2 thoughts in mind: don’t get in the middle of 2 girls fighting and there had to be a way to get student to respond to directions even when their emotions and senses were on high alert.
My next five years were spent in a classroom setting where most of the students, at 10 years of age, were in a gang, getting into the gang, or planning their entrance to the gang. Weapons were not uncommon in the classroom. It was in this environment I learned the basics of ABA, only I didn’t know the terminology. The experience required strict expectations, fierce follow through and loving consequences; a model I follow today.
I spent the following 5 years as a school counselor at a school that had nearly 1000 students, 200 of whom were diagnosed with ASD. My goal in this setting was two-fold: first, keep them with their peers as much as possible, which meant figure out a way for them to access their education in the general education setting and second, teach the social skills that would enable them to connect with their peers. The focus was on learning behaviors and social goals and targets and then teaching them to track their own progress.
The most recent 5 years have been spent in a private setting. There are those with a diagnosis who cannot speak that need to the skills to communicate. There are those with a diagnosis that cannot regulate their own systems enough to participate in the small things that could bring them happiness. There are those with a diagnosis who need us to keep trying to find a way to connect them to the world around them. There are those that cannot understand why or how they are different, but they know that they are. There are those that don’t know they are different and would rather not change.
The definition of journey is "passage or progress from one stage to another". It does not stipulate beginning nor end. It is the experiences we have as we pass through stages of our own development. I am on a crusade to give children their own chance at a journey of their choosing.
It is here that my dream of being a child advocate has been realized.