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By Mark St. Germain
December 10 – February 21 in the Keating Theatre (Opening Night: Friday, December 12)
The Story: Two lonely souls embark on a relationship filled with surprising discoveries. A young man seeks the instruction of a Broadway dancer, now sidelined with injuries. As their relationship unfolds, they’re caught off-guard by the unexpected revelations – both hilarious and heartwarming – that they make about each other. REGIONAL PREMIERE!
~Autism and Education~
We asked playwright, Mark St. Germain:
Q. Is education doing the right thing by creating a special education programs for children with autism?
~ Mark’s response~
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.
~Mark St. Germain
One thought on “DANCING LESSONS FORUMS”
Mark’s comment about the importance of helping individuals with autism as early as possible is now an established practice in the world of autism treatments–it is, in fact, often referred to as an “early intervention.” But this has not always been the case. In fact, this idea was, at one time, unheard of, and quite revolutionary. I was diagnosed at the age of 3, in 1991, at a time when early interventions were not widely known. It was also a time when autism diagnoses were often presented with fatalistic outcomes–the doctor who diagnosed me told my mother that “I would amount to nothing in life and to get used to it.”
I agree with Mark that early interventions are an important part of helping children with autism. But regarding special education programs, I belive that, to paraphrase philosopher Daniel Quinn, “Diversity, not uniformity, is what works.” As Mark noted, every person with autism is different. If that is the case, diverse educational options should be offered in our educational settings and schools. I believe we make a mistake by putting “mainstreaming” and “special education programs” as two opposing systems. In reality, both systems work for some children with autism and not others, and they are not “either/or” systems–some schools will mainstream children in some subjects while putting them in special education programs for other subjects or skills.
As a person with autism, my education was diverse. I was sometimes mainstreamed, sometimes homeschooled, and in high school, took a combination of mainstream and special education classes. Sometimes mainstreaming and special education did not work for me, but it was the DIVERSITY of educational experiences I had growing up that ultimately, enabled me to engage in an education that prepared for my vocational path after high school. Homeschooling taught me how to learn independently. My mainstream classes showed me how to adapt to a neurotypical environment, while my special education classes gave me supports and skills that my mainstream classes would not have been able to offer. All these skills have been necessary to be a functional adult member of society.
What matters is what works for the child you are the parent of and/or are trying to educate–and whether or not teachers are able to accurately assess this when they are educating their students. When we look at how a child is being educated, or question the value of special education programs vs. mainstreaming, we should not ask if a specific program is good for all children (no one is). We also should not try to argue that since a program does not work for some children, it should be abolished. Rather, we should see if children have benefitted from the program’s existence, and ask whether or not SOME children have benefitted from it. If people benefit from a specific practice or therapy, then NO ONE has any business telling people to abolish it, even if they feel it is an abomination–after all, to the parents whose children benefited from that practice or therapy, those systems do work.
As an advocate, I meet families who have children who were helped by treatments and educational styles that did not help me, and vice versa. That is fine. But for me to try to oppose treatments that have helped others–that, to me, is wrong. Just because I didn’t like or wasn’t helped by something gives me no right to oppose it for other people.
As the old saying goes, “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” We shouldn’t be fighting for or against mainstreaming or special education programs. Rather, we should be fighting for their peaceful coexistence, and for systems that accurately enable us to put students in the educational environments that enable them to thrive and be the best they can be.