Five-year old Anthony truly was one of my most favorite students ever. He saw the world through a unique lens, with a lot of wonder, especially when it came to insects! More on that in a bit...
However, he was often overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, and had a challenging time communicating what he knows.
Anthony was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder; his mom and I viewed this not as a limitation, but as a guide to understanding and unlocking his abilities. His mom was determined to provide him with the tools and support he needed to thrive in a general education setting. Going to a “self-contained” setting was not an option!
At the heart of Anthony's success was my insistence that he be considered for inclusion in general education. (After all, it's an IEP team decision.) I embraced the idea that every child, regardless of their neurodiversity, could be included in learning if given the right supports.
Anthony had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that was created in close collaboration with his mom, the school's special education team, speech therapists, and occupational therapists. We focused on Anthony’s strengths and addressed his challenges. Visual aids, a quiet corner in the classroom for moments of sensory regulation, and a designated peer buddy system were just a few elements of the comprehensive plan we put in place.
Anthony’s mom worked closely with the school to reinforce the strategies used in the classroom at home. She celebrated his victories, no matter how small, and created a nurturing environment that encouraged his curiosity and individuality.
Before I forget, earlier in this story, I mentioned his love of insects. One day while walking back to the classroom from lunch, Anthony broke away from the rest of the class and ran towards the building next to ours on campus. On the wall of the building, was a grasshopper. (Side bar: In Florida, fully grown grasshoppers are enormous! And, quite frankly, a little scary…) This grasshopper was 4 inches long and very colorful. As I approached him, Anthony began telling me the colors. Red, black, yellow, orange, green. Here’s what’s incredible about these colors: Prior to our grasshopper experience, Anthony had not shared his knowledge of colors with me in a traditional way (like via an informal assessment). But did he know these? YES! It was a very proud moment, and again shifted my thinking on how to support kids that are neurodiverse in unique ways and get them to “show what they know”!
Isn’t that what learning is all about?
As the school year progressed, so did Anthony. His classroom supports helped him learn foundational reading skills, number sense and he was able to meet benchmarks for learning in almost all areas. We all witnessed a transformation in him that shattered preconceived notions about what a child with autism could achieve in a general education setting.
Anthony was successful in school because of the collaboration, understanding, and the belief that every child deserves the chance to belong and be included. It’s time to embrace neurodiversity and create environments where every child can grow and learn.
P.S. Prior to my grasshopper encounter with Anthony, I was pretty afraid of them! Not anymore. Thank you to my little friend, Anthony, who showed me beauty in the most interesting of insects.