ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Thursday, July 13, 2006: 3:15 PM-4:30 PM
550 A-B
#2109- Our Presence Automatically Liberates Others: Disability Awareness Programming and the Timelines Project
Parents of children with autism and other disabilities share with educators the common goals of promoting an environment in which children with disabilities are full participants in the school society and in which they are part of their peers’ experience. This presentation describes two connected activities toward creating such an environment. The Disability Awareness Program (dAp) offers training, presentations, resources, and opportunities for community participation. The Timelines Project pilots the inclusion of disability awareness programming within the general curriculum.

Presenters:Elizabeth Parent, B.S., M.S., Howard County Public School System, Resouce Teacher for LRE/DAP & Mother - Tracy Parent is the mother of three children, including her 21-year-old son Bryan who is an individual with autism. Ms. Parent, along with her Least Restrictive Environment team, serves 45 county schools through the Designing Quality Inclusive Education Program. She is the countywide program coordinator for disability awareness.

Ben Dorman, M.A., M.Sc., Ph.D., Chair, Howard County Special Education Community Advisory Ctte. - Ben has been an ASA Chapter President, founded the ASA website, and served a term on its Board of Directors. Lead successful local efforts to fund autism early intervention services. Ben is a software architect- systems change advocate- in the financial services industry. His son with autism, Asher, is 15.

Parents of children with autism and other disabilities share common goals with school districts adopting inclusive programming models. Both want to promote a safe, nurturing environment in which children with disabilities can both be part and feel part of the school society and in which their peers accept them as part of their own experience. As with any (if not all) other educational efforts, this lofty goal is best achieved with the aid of active collaboration between parents and schools.

This presentation describes two connected activities toward creating such an environment in Howard County, Maryland Public Schools. First, the schools have for a number of years supported an active Disability Awareness Program (dAp), which provides training, presentations, resources, and opportunities for community participation in Disability Awareness Activities. This includes offering full day or half day dAp days in which speakers with disabilities or related persons give presentations to staff and students within the school and classroom setting. Pre-dAp activities and Post-dAp activities are provided (such as locating possible physical barriers within a school building, pre-tests on things person with disabilities can and can not do, hands on sensory activities) along with a resource list of materials (e.g. books, articles, videos, power point trainings) so school can extend learning past the actual presentations and enhance learning past the one day presentations.

The Timeline Project takes this one step further and is embedded within the curriculum. It pilots the inclusion of disability awareness programming within the general curriculum, showing by example the parallels, connections and contrasts between the history of individuals with disability and those of other groups (specifically women and African-Americans) that have struggled for full equality. The key artifact produced for this project is a large poster chart (3' x 2'6”) which illustrates the march toward equal opportunity for all three groups simultaneously.

This project was implicitly a collaborative effort. It was jointly conceived by parents and the school's LRE facilitators as an improvement on the Annual “National Inclusive Schools” week that is celebrated in December. It was decided not to concentrate on drawing attention to the importance of educating students with disabilities in the general education classroom for one week in the year. Instead, an educational component was conceived that teaches all children how individuals with disabilities are another part of society struggling to join the mainstream as full participants. The project was accepted by the school's Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. The timeline chart is available as a resource to teachers through the county's online repository of curriculum materials. Lessons using this resource were commissioned and drafted in the summer of 2005.

In the course of creating this project many interesting parallels between the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and disability history became apparent. For examples: disability activist Ed Roberts was admitted to Berkeley after a struggle the same year (1962) that James Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi amidst riots. Women denied a leading role in the anti-slavery movement became among the founders of the movement for suffrage. Victor, “the wild child of Aveyron” – generally recognized to have had autism – was studied by Itard, whose student Seguin created the first systematic attempts to educate children with cognitive disabilities and was a leading influence on Maria Montessori of early childhood education fame. As well as the lessons that can be drawn from these parallels, there are a number of activities for middle and high school children that are immediately suggested. For example, children of various ethnic backgrounds may research and build their own community's similar struggle. Additionally, in this project a number of these parallels have been noted but there is much room for activities searching for others.

Best practices for children with all disabilities indicate education in the least restrictive environment benefits all participants. Teachers learn how to differentiate to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners; typical peers show growth academically as well as learning intrinsic values such as patience, tolerance, and the ability to relate to a variety of people; and students with disabilities show growth not only in academics but within communication, social and behavior domains. Not only do all children need to be part of their community and be seen as such by their typical peers, but they need also to be acquainted with the culture of the society they live in. For many children with autism whose cognitive ability is difficult to assess, the “least dangerous assumption” is that they are able to absorb much more material than is apparent. The key point of initiatives such as those we discuss here is that the history and presence of people with disabilities should become part of that culture in which we are all immersed. Having staff, students, and the extended school community participate in disability awareness programs, projects and presentations helps to create an environment that welcomes diversity. Exposing typical peers to disability history – demonstrating the similarities with their own heritage – takes one step in that direction.

Participants in this workshop will learn about activities in organizing disability awareness programs in schools. They will learn about the Timelines Project as a new resource to teach all children about the place of people with disabilities within society.

The quote in the title of this abstract — which also appears on the timeline chart — is from Nelson Mandela.

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