Isolation and engagement are two things on my heart and mind. I was a teacher for 25 years in a school that had a program for Autistic children. The children enrolled in the program at a very young age. One of the program’s goals was to thoughtfully integrate the Autistic children into the school’s academic schedule, which happened.
I was the art teacher, which afforded me the wonderful opportunity to get to know every child in elementary school. The Autistic children were certainly on my mind when it came to my natural desire for everything to be inclusive, for the children and adults to be kind to one another, and when I considered the fact that, as far as I was concerned, it was part of my job to know how to engage all minds in what I was to present as a learning lesson.
I remember Silly String was a hit with the Autistic children. I tried many ways to engage them, but, when I pulled out that Silly String, I had their attention. They loved exploring its texture and color. Most of all, the experience sparked greater engagement.
However, the issue of isolation was apparent. These children were labeled, they were perceived as a group, and they were different from their non-Autistic peers in socializing within the school.
They had “their” main center, “their” aides. I felt each child was very much aware of the school’s social setting outside of their classroom. They desired to be part of the school; on their own terms and in their own ways. It was our job as teachers to understand and meet their needs and, whenever possible, to address their wishes.
There was one particular student who had been in the program for four years and was then in Grade 4. This child, a budding artist, came to me during an art class and said, “I do not think they are being nice to me.”
This student’s words have never left me. That was 13 years ago. His words are what fueled my desire to create the character of “Scarlet Saltee” in Archie Comics; to provide stories that parents, family members, teachers, and, most significantly, Autistic children and adults, can utilize as an icebreaker to talk about Autism, inclusion, and kindness.
Another (related) area for me to tackle is online bullying. With ever-increasing technology and more people having access to it, cyberbullying is becoming rampant. Scarlet’s message is also directed to everyone when it comes to the cruelest acts to intentionally isolate another human being.
That is wrong, of course, and I can’t even describe the deep and lasting pain that it creates. Why on earth carry bullying on your shoulders or in your heart? Scarlet’s message is one of compassion and understanding. Her character is a role model for the bullied and the bullies.
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Scarlet’s first appearance into Archie Comics is titled “Kindness Works”.
If I had only had this particular comic when my student reported unkindness, I feel it would have aided in “engagement “! I support and promote the use of comic books in the classroom. It’s a magical method to spark conversation on topics that are on difficult to approach! Rich graphics spark the brain for analysis. This provides the reader with the opportunity to expand the story, build values, and internalize thought in a way that makes sense to the reader. I coined the phrase Comic Books + Children = Read, Knowledge, and Confidence!
Why not, I say! Stories change hearts. Stories change minds. Stories provide hope! The next time you see a superhero movie, remember superheroes can be more than just getting that fictional bad guy. They can be the path to open meaningful conversation, such as Autism, Inclusion, various learning styles, and the need for kindness.
It’s really important to know that if people have trouble verbally communicating, that does not mean that they do not understand what is being said or done. The character of Scarlet Saltee desires to have friends and struggles to do so, due to the fact that her social cues sometimes makes it difficult for her to form friendships.
Many in Scarlet’s position feel some people make fun of them because they don’t understand that their behaviors are sometimes about being Autistic. Sometimes, people can be mean and Autistic people do not know how to tell them how bad it feels. It can be really hard. Scarlet says, “We are all unique, but have some things in common.
So I am part of a big community! It would be really cool if people who aren’t Autistic could learn about Autism from Autistic people, and also from trusted resources, and stuff, instead of believing rumors and stereotypes. YOU can be a voice for Inclusion for All!”
Hashtags: #KindnessWorks and #KindnessIcon
This article was featured in Issue 88 – Knowledge is Power