Reflecting on How Far We’ve Come This National Autism Awareness Month

In April, we in the special education community come together to honor National Autism Awareness Month.  As we set aside time to celebrate those on the autism spectrum, I can’t help but reflect on how far we’ve come over the past few decades thanks to the tireless work of exceptional educators to improve the lives of our students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

For example, I recently spoke to a middle-school general education teacher in Georgia who was celebrating one of her students on the autism spectrum. In our conversation, she praised the school’s ability to support the student prior to identification. Their amazing teachers were actually able to recognize that the student was demonstrating some traits of autism spectrum disorders and implemented basic strategies for the student’s success. She mentioned how they created a visual schedule and maintained a set routine with rehearsed contingency plans – and, remember, this was before the student was even identified as exceptional!   

It is improvements such as these that show the dedication that all educators have shown to truly meeting the needs of students with exceptionalities across the nation.

Another example that comes to mind is when I had the pleasure of talking with the parent of a student on the autism spectrum who shared a heart-warming story. Concerned that her child was struggling with negative behaviors and performing below their full academic potential at their previous school, she worked with her school district to change her child’s placement. And guess what – not only has her child not had any significant behavioral struggles, but the student is now excelling academically, socially, and emotionally. We even celebrated the fact that her child is now in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program at their local high school! Just a few short years ago, this would have been nearly impossible; and now, it is becoming the norm. 

As we celebrate those with ASD and the wonderful students who have graced our paths, let us also stop to celebrate ourselves for fighting tirelessly for our students.

As exceptional educators and CEC members, we have lobbied our government, rallied our parents, and supported our students to ensure they have a world class education and – most important of all – the opportunity for an amazing life. Hats off to you!

CEC member, Richard Williams, contributed this content.

Richard Williams is a special education teacher for students with emotional/behavioral disorders. Williams has worked in general education schools in self-contained EBD classrooms and two special education centers for students with severe EBD. He has a master’s in special education from Clark Atlanta University and is currently working towards a doctorate in special education from The George Washington University with a focus on students with EBD, transition plans, and preparations for post-secondary life. In additions to his studies, he is working on two projects: one on the neurological and continuities ability for adolescents to effectively participate in their transition plans, and one on the quality of life outcomes for students with EBD in post-secondary school. An active CEC member, Williams has been a Reality 101 blogger as well as a member of the Yes I Can and Diversity Committees. Outside of the classroom, he is a plant-based lifestyle and animal rights advocate who runs a blog of book reviews and current events. In his spare time, he loves to read and go on hikes with his dog.

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