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I have a new favorite book about loving and educating a child with autism: Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant.
I want to get copies for everyone in my extended family.
I want to make it required reading for anyone who comes in contact with my child.
This gentleman understands what it means to say “Children are persons” and to base their education on that foundational principle.
He understands that the goal of education is not “to know” but “to grow.”
I think he and Charlotte Mason would have gotten along famously!
Mr. Prizant speaks from more than 40 years of experience with autistic children. (That means he was working with them and their parents before most of us had even heard the word autism.) His background has given him a vast amount of knowledge. But most importantly, his heart of compassion has given him incredible insight.
He has observed that too many programs for children with autism focus on defining the child as the sum of her limitations, or deficits, and spend most of the energy and effort determining how to get rid of those unwanted behaviors. Making the child look and act “normal” is the goal.
“This way of understanding and supporting people with autism is sorely lacking. It treats the person as a problem to be solved rather than an individual to be understood. It fails to show respect for the individual and ignores that person’s perspective and experience. It neglects the importance of listening, paying close attention to what the person is trying to tell us, whether through speech or patterns of behavior.”
“What’s more helpful is to dig deeper: to ask what is motivating these behaviors, what is underlying these patterns. It’s more appropriate, and more effective, to ask ‘Why?'”
He encourages us parents to become students of our autistic children. To see their emphatic behaviors—everything from echolalia to stimming to obsessions—as an attempt to communicate as best they can. He suggests from his years of observation and consulting that we give them the benefit of the doubt that there is a reason behind what they do. Once we can decipher the reason, we can take steps to support their efforts, to lessen their anxiety, and to make it easier for them to engage with us and the world around them.
The book is very readable as the author shares story after story of boys, girls, and adults with autism whom he has been privileged to know and do life with.
His philosophy is less about changing the child and more about changing our attitudes and perspectives about the child. And isn’t that an important key? For the ideas that rule our lives and shape our thoughts have a profound impact on those around us.
As Charlotte reminded us, one-third of education is atmosphere—the atmosphere we create by the ideas that rule our lives.
For those of you who have a child with autism, this book will be a breath of fresh air. More than a breath. A life-giving inspiration.
And for the rest of you, this book will be a powerful and compassionate lens through which to view children who have autism. With the number of autism diagnoses as it currently is (approximately 1 in 68), you will most likely interact with a family dealing with autism. This book will prepare you for just such an opportunity and help you explain autism to wondering children in your life.