When I was a new “mom”, I worried. I worried a lot. If my son got a bruise, I was certain he had leukemia. If he had a rash, I was convinced it was flesh-eating bacteria. A fever? Well, do people still get the Plague? It didn’t help that he got sick quite often. His immune system was weak when he was young, so having that somewhat valid excuse to worry made me jump to the wrong conclusions, every time.
Our pediatrician was a very experienced, very wise man. He was also very patient with me, (I now see in hindsight!) One day, he sat me down in the office and said these words to me, “Mrs. Shumate, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” Those words changed my life. That philosophy has greatly impacted my teaching style and has allowed me to experience great success in working with students with Autism.
A child, teenager, or adult with ASD is just that: a child, teenager, or adult first. Some would argue that semantics are not that important. Others angrily state, “I am an autistic adult and proud to be so!” To each his own; but for me and my IDEA House staff the Autism is secondary to the individual. Period.
Having a bad day, being in a disagreeable mood, breaking a school rule: those are the horse hoofbeats of life. To attribute every single thought or action a person experiences to ASD, is to invalidate the individual as a thinking, feeling human being who will have the same ups and downs as any other human being on the planet. To fail to have high expectations or fail to hold a child accountable for his actions because of ASD is to let the zebras take over.
Many parents, over the years, have been resentful of a consequence or withholding of rewards when their children misbehaved or did not meet an expectation. “But he has AUTISM!” I have heard this so many times. Yes, he has Autism. He also has blue eyes, brown hair, and freckles. He still threw a pencil.
Is this simplifying things? Of course, to some degree, it is. There are many factors that come into play when providing the highest quality education program for children with ASD. Environmental adjustments, accommodations, specialized instruction, and clear/concise communication are all vital components. But when those supports are in place and a child is still struggling, try to think of horses when you hear those hoofbeats!
I am many things. I am the assistant director at IDEA House. I am a teacher of history. I am a mom, a grandmom, a wife, and a friend. I am a swimmer, an artist, a lover of books and music. I am a photographer. I love animals and have a heart for the elderly and people who are hurting. I have a degree in social work and counseling. I have a masters degree.
I have been around the country. I am an author and a journalist for newspapers and magazines. I have been a swim coach, a director of a battered woman’s shelter/rape crisis center, a counselor with women at a local jail and with kids who have been abused. I have been a speaker, advocate and blogger.
I am Italian. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I am adopted. I have adopted two children. I love the Disney Channel. I still sleep with my teddy bear. I love mustangs. I love planes. I love binge watching television shows while playing games on my computer or phone. I love to take walks. I love to breathe in ocean air. I love to watch the waves of the ocean and stare at the peaks of mountains.
I love. I hurt. I cry. I love the simple things in life. I am one to look for the positive in any given situation. I am determined and a hard worker.
I have experienced life, loss, and death. I am responsible for my behaviors.. I am responsible for myself. I pay all my bills. I am my own self-advocate. I am strong. I can make good choices. I can choose how I handle negative, around me. I can be a mentor and offer hope. I can keep my cool. I can keep my job. I can make appointments on time. I can handle a heavy workload. I can multi-task. I can offer an ear to someone who needs to talk. I can offer ways to overcome. I can be a peaceful presence.
I have Autism.
With all that you see, written about me, what will you remember most?