Sasha Long of The Autism Helper discusses the importance of educating children about disability diversity and offers actionable tips for fostering this awareness in children. Sasha currently teaches in a junior high autism classroom.
Disability Diversity, Awareness, and Acceptance
When we think about diversity education, our first thoughts are diversity of race, religion, and gender. However, an important type of diversity education and awareness is underrepresented in our schools, and that is the education and awareness of disability diversity.
Why is teaching disability awareness and acceptance important?
Our children are growing up in a world where individuals with disabilities are now meaningful members of our communities and our schools. The diagnosis of disabilities is rising. According to the CDC, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. This is something you and your students will encounter in your lifetime. If interacting with individuals with disabilities is not already a part of your students’ lives, it will be someday; whether on the playground, at camp, or at a job. You need to make sure your students are ready. It is our duty as teachers to provide this next generation with the education and tools to embrace this population.
How can I teach my students about autism and other disabilities?
- Don’t ignore this topic. Yes, it may feel awkward or uncomfortable to talk about this. But ignoring it completely will teach your students that it’s okay to ignore individuals with disabilities.
- Create an ongoing dialogue. This won’t be a one-and-done situation. Provide opportunities throughout the year for education and training.
- Encourage questions. Your students will have questions, and that’s okay. Actually – that’s great! That means they care. Answer questions openly and honestly.
- Provide specific strategies for inclusion. Give your students specific things they can do to include or befriend individuals with disabilities within your school. Tell them how to react when they see things that may look unusual. Encourage them to be patient and continue to reach out!
- Refer to the experts in your school. If you’re unsure of how to approach this, ask the special education teachers or clinicians at your school. They will be great resources! If you don’t have any resources at your school, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be happy to help you!
- Seek out inclusion opportunities for your students. One of the best moments of my teaching career was when a general education teacher down the hall asked if my students wanted to be part of a weekly art group. I felt like the girl standing in the corner that had finally been asked to dance! It was such a relief and joy to know my class was welcome.
- Make this a community initiative. It takes a village. Make this movement towards increased acceptance a school-wide priority. Things like interactive boards and newsletters can help make everyone part of the movement!
Sasha Long, MA, BCBA is a board certified behavior analyst and certified special education teacher. She currently teaches in a junior high autism classroom and is the founder and president of The Autism Helper, Inc. Sasha manages and writes The Autism Helper blog as a way to share easy-to-use and ready-to-implement strategies and ideas. Sasha also travels nationwide as a speaker and consultant providing individualized training and feedback to parents, educators, therapists, and administrators in the world of autism. She is also currently an adjunct professor in the school of Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Her resources can be found in her Teachers Pay Teachers store, The Autism Helper.