Sunday, September 4, 2011
While I continue to work for Kline Books as their Judaica Cataloger and the writer for Tipsy, I am starting a second enterprise as a tutor for grade school and high school students with Asperger syndrome/autism. The idea is to help students on the autism spectrum navigate school, both academically and socially, and hopefully eventually prepare for college. In addition I would also serve as a bridge to negotiate between student, parents and teachers. The underlying assumption behind this is that there are a lot autistic students out there who could theoretically handle mainstream school if it were not for certain "buts." I can help pave over these "buts" by being there for students as a resource that they can talk through issues with, whether school papers or how to deal with other students and teachers.
This idea has been germinating in my mind over the past several years as it combines the different sides of my life. I taught high school and college level history, came to identify myself as an Asperger and by extension a member of the wider autistic community and served as a mentor for those following a similar path. One of the things that I took from my time with Aspirations and ASAN was the need to rethink autism from the ground up even to the point of creating a different language to discuss it from that of the medical establishment and special education.
Most of the focus on autism is on those who fit the "classic" model of autism. And there is certainly good reason for this. That being said this leaves a gap for those who do not fit the traditional model of autism, who in theory could make it in a regular school, but also need help in ways that are sometimes difficult to precisely identify. (Of course once one accepts the existence of autistics who can speak, read, write and even get a graduate degree one is forced to rethink the treatment process of those across the entire autism spectrum.) I take particular inspiration from the example of Ari Ne'eman and his successful campaign to place himself within a mainstream high school.
In a previous post I expressed some concern with emphasizing mainstream schools as the goal. I still stand by my earlier position. That being said, I do recognize that a mainstream school is preferable to any autism school based around a disability model. Schools like the Haugland Learning Center are an important step in the right direction, but it is unlikely that they could support more than a small fraction of autistic children. Even if they could, until we create an autistic version of Gallaudet University, getting autistic students ready for integration into mainstream colleges will have to be the goal even for schools like Haugland. So for now I feel perfectly comfortable in advocating for both separate and mainstream schools depending on the particular situation. Those autistics who wish to go to a mainstream school should receive the necessary help to get into and stay in one. Those who wish to go to a separate school will still need the skills to make mainstream school a viable option.
What attracts me to the idea of doing more work with autstic students, besides for allowing me to take my previous involvement with advocacy a step further, is that it fits my particular set of skills as a teacher. I relate much better to children than to adults. Children tend to like the fact that I am genuinely interested in them and do not speak down to them; furthermore they are not put off by my eccentricities. At the same time my manner of speaking is highly academic and even adults have a hard time understanding me. This could be the perfect boon to an Asperger with specific interests to have me in his life to engage in running discourses about whatever interests them.
So if anyone out there knows someone in the Los Angeles area who can use my services feel free to contact me.