By Kodey Toney
Count Me In
At our recent Partners in Policymaking meeting we met a man named Dr. Patrick Schwarz, PhD. Patrick is like a solar flare of energy. I just knew that at some point in his presentation he was going to explode, but he only threw out little balls of excitement here and there, making you wonder when it was going to happen. I wanted to share a few of the things I found interesting from his presentation.
First, let me share a little background on Dr. Schwarz. According to his website patrickschwarz.com: Dr. Patrick Schwarz is a dynamic and engaging professor, author, motivational speaker and leader in Education (Inclusive Education, Special Education, General Education, Educational Leadership) and Human Services. He is a professor at National-Louis University, Chicago. Patrick’s company is Creative Culture Consulting LLC.
His presentation was about Successful Inclusive Education. He explained that inclusion in the classroom is possible with all individuals, though it will take work and dedication. Much of his information was presented from his many years in the education field in the classroom, special education classroom, and many other hats he has worn including a parent.
His perspective on separate rooms for those with disabilities is that they shouldn’t exist. Children need to be with their peers regardless of need. His example was: “What are they going to do when they get out? If you have a child in a school for the deaf, what are they going to do, go to deaf Wal-Mart?” This makes sense to me. I’ve recently said that children on the spectrum need the interaction of their peers to help them reverse their introversions. They typically do better with the language and social skills because they can learn from those around them. Children with autism like to mimic those around them. If we are trying to bring them out of their shells then shouldn’t we put them in a room with others who are extroverted?
He explained that the best place to teach someone about life skills is in real life situations. For example; if you have a child that is learning about money, it is better to put them in a situation where they actually use the money to buy something as opposed to making them sit in a classroom and count out money for an hour. If you want someone to learn how to make breakfast, then they should learn when it is time to actually make breakfast and not at 10 a.m. after they have already eaten.
Another great quote was: “The only way to get out of prejudice is by education and inclusion.” This is so true. We can teach our children to accept others by including others. “When we put our children in special education classes at a separate lunch table, that is no better than Rosa Parks.”
If there is a doubt that this can work because of a language or social barrier, Dr. Schwarz used Ellis Island as an example. There were so many different nationalities coming through immigration. They didn’t speak the same languages. There was social awkwardness. However, it all worked out. They found ways to live and communicate together.
He explained that this was not going to happen overnight, and that there would be set-backs. If a child does something to get kicked out of the classroom you would have to have a plan to reintegrate. There will be issues, but it will work out in the end. Konner is great example. We have worked with him so much in the past five years, and we have work left to do, but I can remember a teacher saying that he would “never conform to the classroom.” Well, he still needs some work, but he’s come a long way, and is doing well. He only needs a little redirection, and there are a few times he needs sensory breaks, but for the most part, he works along with others and does very well. I’m convinced that he wouldn’t have been if he had been in a special education classroom.
As a parent, if you want your child to be in a regular classroom, and I hope you do, it will take some work, but you can make it happen.
I think the most interesting thing I learned from Schwarz was a new way to look at a disability. He explained that it was like an attribute. We look at people with different characteristics and tend to label them that way. Some examples would be someone with red hair, glasses, freckles, a big nose, etc. These are all things that a person is born with that makes them unique, like everyone else. So we don’t describe someone with glasses as “Gladys who is nearsighted. “ If we have to use a description we say something like, “That’s Gladys. You know, the one who wears glasses.” This is an attribute. Schwarz described the people as, “Johnny who has autism as an attribute.” I thought this was such a cool way to describe someone. If you need to explain; if it is important to the story then you just need to say that this disability is an attribute. I think I’ll start using this one.
This was one of my favorite presenters at the Partners in Policymaking class. Don’t forget that they will be at the Parents of Autism meeting at Carl Albert State College in Poteau on Thursday, Feb. 21. The meeting will start at 6 a.m. For more information contact me.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at email@example.com. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.