Yesterday, I was offered a position teaching this summer at a small residential school for children with autism. From what little I've heard, the field is in desperate need of new professionals and people rarely stay in the field for long. This makes me a bit scared. There are quite a few reasons for this, I think. It's been my desire for a long time to teach. The profession encapsulates so many of my interests; it's difficult to imagine doing anything else. I love speaking in front of people and communicating my ideas to others. But this job seems so much different from all of that. It feels like it will really throw any ideals I have to the testing point.

What are people with autism like?

Children with autism typically develop along normal developmental lines until they are approximately two years old when they will begin to show delays in language skills and social interaction. Usually they spend a lot of time alone, seldom interacting with other children and often not learning how to respond to cues like smiles and eye contact. Sometimes, children with autism will have sensitivity to light, loud noises, particular odors and textures. Usually autistic people are prone to seizures or self injury. Austistics may also manifest other disorders such as Down's Syndrome, Tourette's Syndrome, epilepsy or mental retardation.

Like any other person, autistic individuals have highly developed personalities that are unique to each individual. People with autism tend to process information very differently. Sometimes it will happen as a person speaking in a monologue about a subject even though others attempt to comment to them while they're doing it. Others have very mild symptoms like they aren't able to sustain conversation for very long. "Educators and other service providers must consider the unique pattern of learning strengths and difficulties in the individual with autism when assessing learning and behavior." 1 Contrary to many conceptions of autistic people, many grow to smile, laugh, and converse like anyone else. It's all in varying degrees.

What are effective methods of helping austistic people?

Evidence clearly shows that early intervention in the lives of children with autism dramatically helps them. Since these children are all different people, methods vary; however, highly structured schedules, programs oriented towards the child's interests, and involvment of the parents in educating the children have all shown to be the best. It is most important to consider that each child is different and will therefore learn and understand the world differently.

These children need help in order to live; some are more high functioning, but many of them will always have severe problems communicating with other people. I feel like I don't know much about what I'm doing, and I'm scared that I'll screw something up. Communication and basic cognition is something that I totally take for granted. For years now, I've developed my thinking skills until they're largely second nature in many ways. However, these children have difficulty in making such connections. The amazing part, however, is that they make other connections quite easily — connections in the mind that I can't hardly fathom. I think that the most important thing is to remember that I love taking care of children and being able to interact with them. These children are so unusual, too; they're totally different from other kids. I believe something like 1 in 10 autistic people have savant tendencies. I can't begin to imagine how fascinating these kids are. And I've missed being around children in the last several years of my life. I was thinking about it while I asked a few close people to me about it. Interesting what the responses say.

My roommate told me: "I want to work with the retards!"
My mother told me: "You've got a good soul, Lauren. You can do this."
My friend Christopher told me: "If it's what you want to do, I'm sure it will work out."
My father told me: "You'll finally be able to teach; it's very exciting."

I'm really happy that I'll finally get my first "real" job. It may seem silly, but I'm absolutely in love with the opportunity. I really hope that I can remain in love with it; I don't want to become one of the faceless many that hate their jobs and their daily lives. Perhaps this position will give me the chance to be in love with my work.

I really hope so.

Update 5/4/02 3:53 AM EST The job didn't go through for numerous reasons that I won't get into. Thanks to everyone who offered support on this, though.

Not being able to speak is NOT the same as not having anything to say. 2

Further Information on Autism: