Appreciating the Spectrum

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Sometimes, the best way to teach a special needs child is just let them be special. Marilyn Englander has this Perspective.

When I began teaching in the 80s, we didn’t understand much about children on the autism spectrum. A student would appear on my roster. Off we’d go for the year.

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t know all about the autism spectrum. Instead, I puzzled out each child as an individual. Imperceptibly, these students became my favorites. I loved their direct approach to the world. They didn’t invent excuses or connive. What you saw was what you got.

For example, Sean, even at 13, asked permission to swing on the playground every morning so he could focus in class. James needed to quietly shred scrap paper at his desk so he could listen attentively. Liz had to kiss her papers before handing them in.

These students taught me about simply looking at the facts, dropping my assumptions.


One day, the bell had rung and new students were filing into my classroom. Dave shrieked as he reached his homeroom desk. His precious mechanical pencil lay there in a hundred pieces. I knew who had sat at his desk last period. I told Dave I’d go get him.

“James,” I said, pointing to the desk. "Look!" I was about to go on… but James wailed,
“Oh no! This is not good!”
I peered at him, “Who did this?” I expected a shuffle and dodge.
“I did it!” he said earnestly. “I need to buy the kid a brand new pencil!” He beamed at us.
The potential brawl fizzled.

Another day, Chris dropped her sticky red lollipop onto Ralph’s newly completed essay. Ralph began screaming at her. I hurried over. I asked Chris what had happened. She turned innocent eyes toward me --- “I was reading Ralph’s great essay and the lollipop fell out of my mouth. It’s yucky. I slimed his paper. I need to fix it.” The kids actually smiled at each other.

They wouldn’t play society’s games, so sometimes these kids frustrated me. But my reward was learning the power of naming the facts in front of me.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.