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A Special Educator’s Thoughts on Inclusion and Friendship

December 10, 2021


An educator’s advocacy to raise autism awareness helps Samir, an autistic boy, make friends.

A Special Educator’s Thoughts on Inclusion and Friendship
https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/friendship-thoughts-special-inclusion/

“Hold on to the grin,” said my heart whenever Samir passed by or took classes with me.

When asked: “Samir, what makes you smile so much?” the happy-go-lucky chap answers with just a smile.

I guess a smile is just so instinctive to him.

One sunny afternoon, as I asked my students to describe each of their classmates with an adjective, it was not astonishing that Samir’s description included words like “jovial”, “bubbly”, “merciful” and so on.

With time, the adjectives used to describe Samir had changed. Samir had been on a journey—he went from being called “insane” to “bubbly”, from being excluded to being included. This journey was a long one. 


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Samir’s world

My memory takes me back to the time when Samir was in fourth grade. I can visualize him merrily dawdling around the school premises like a free bird. 

Giving a high-five was his way of greeting the teachers. He greeted nobody else this way because he felt safe with teachers. Children with autism often find it easy to predict adult behavior. Besides, grown-ups are seen as more patient and understanding. 

The young ones in the school found him restless, always bumping into people and objects. They couldn’t stop complaining, saying things like, “He threw my new pencil case out of the window”. It was not unusual to hear, “He often disturbs our class”. His behavior was seen as challenging.

His fellow students sighed with relief when he left class (sometimes in the middle of a lesson) to attend his individual therapy sessions and programs. Samir, on the other hand, complained about missing his classroom experiences with them. 

For Samir, his “friends” meant the world to him. Many children on the spectrum crave to bond, but effective social communication may be challenging.

An educator’s advocacy 

I took this on as a challenge. Many of us can’t imagine our life without friends; why should Samir?

My endeavor to spread awareness about autism started. I thanked my lucky stars that April was near. I involved the entire school community—class teachers, special educators, health workers, and other staff members—to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.

It worked! It was a great way to teach the school community about empathy, understanding, and how different we all are. I also added a few books on autism to the school’s library.

We worked as a team, realizing nothing is impossible. We adopted the theme: “Being different is okay” for a year. During this time, the following activities were run in our school:

  1. Baarfi was screened during lunchtime. Priyanka Chopra, a leading Indian actress, plays the role of Jhilmil Chatterjee, a girl with autism. Her character shows the trials and tribulations of an autistic person
  1. We spoke to children in small and large groups about Samir’s needs, strengths, and weaknesses. They were encouraged to contemplate questions like: “Why does Rahul enjoy badminton while Sam likes mathematics?” “Does it matter if we have different skin tones or color?” “Is being a left-handed child in a right-handed world okay?”
  1. Being kind and compassionate is one of the best things you can do to help someone with autism. We read powerful stories of kindness to the kids. It reached their hearts in ways that direct discussions could never have. An engaging storybook can always help kids feel empathy with all kinds of characters, including those with autism

Meanwhile, Samir challenged his own limits to get along with his friends. Constant interactions and therapies helped him figure out strategies for functioning and coping in different situations. It wasn’t easy for him, but it wasn’t impossible, either. 

He was learning to be more patient, wait for his turn, not disrupt the class with unnecessary questions, and keep a comfortable distance and respect the personal space of others. 

It’s been more than a year now. Last week, Samir came up to me with a grin on his face and said: “Saurav was at my place for a play-date on Sunday. Later, Ria also joined in. It was so much fun to explore my new Lego!”

Coming back to the question: “How many of us can do without friends?” No one!

 Why should Samir then?

This article was featured in Issue 124 – Autism Around The World

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