~We asked Mark St. Germain, DANCING LESSONS playwright the following question~
Q: Is education doing the right thing by creating a special education programs for children with autism?
A: From my observation of Parents and their Autistic Children the earlier the Child is worked with the better. The play was inspired by my meeting on the street an autistic boy in his late teens who I had met when he was five or six. He would sit at a lunch table with his parents and other people, not engage in conversation or even eye contact. He was, I thought, in his world and blocking out any other. Years later I encountered him with his Father. The Boy was gregarious and well spoken. He shook my hand, made direct eye contact and was absolutely delightful. As I was about to go he started a litany of things that he remembered from our lunches together: my birthday, age, children, and a list of names of the people who ate with us.
It was astonishing. His parents had worked very hard to get their son into schools very early to work with him on social interaction and learning processes.
A couple who I love very much also have been raising a child with autism. They took the same route and aggressively: early and almost non-stop education. From what they’ve told me, early recognition and attentiveness is critical.
Here. I’m addressing children in their early years. So far as mainstreaming, I’ve heard good reports about it, depending on the ability of the children to interact. Ultimately, parents want their children to be able to function effectively and independently in society. But one thing that has been drilled into me by folks with autism is that every individual is different – like all of us.
One thought on “Q&A w/ Mark St. Germain on ‘Dancing Lessons’”
In my personal experience, the school I attended had a separate wing of the building which was colloquially known as the “center”. I am guessing that this stood for the center for special education or something like that, but I never knew anything besides the fact that the center had this strange stigma attached to it. We would see the center kids occasionally – sometimes for P.E., music, or art, but never during our regular class time. The blanket assumption by all of us was that center kids were “mentally retarded”, a phrase that got thrown around a lot at that time.
While the kids in the center did have the benefit of teeny class sizes, which gave them more one-on-one time with teachers, I don’t think the complete separation was beneficial for either group – it made it this whole them/us thing that wasn’t necessary.
It is important for early and aggressive recognition and attention to be paid to these students, as Mark suggests above. But that doesn’t mean these students should be isolated entirely. I feel that if there had been more overlap between my classes and the center that I would have understood a lot more about the situation at a much younger age. I think that my peers and I would have been a lot less ignorant and a lot more understanding if there had been more interaction between us all.