While working with a frustrated student in my office, my son’s frustrated voice came back to me as I remembered trying to explain the phrase "when pigs fly” to my then first grade son. “Pigs don’t fly, Mom!” my son had screamed, “When do pigs ever fly?” He had overheard one of his classmates saying it and the phrase made no sense to him. “Mom”, he said in his no-nonsense way, “I explained to David he was incorrect in his use of that analogy, because pigs can't fly…they don't have wings.” My gifted son had been hurt and confused because David and his other classmates laughed at him; he didn't get why. My own friends and colleagues laugh when I tell this story; they think it's cute. It is cute. However, my son’s frustrated voice came back to me that day sitting in my office with a clearly overwhelmed student thinking about what an inclusive learning environment truly is.
Parenting my son and addressing his educational needs and experiences has caused me to reevaluate my own professional ability to be open-minded enough to help all students be successful on our campuses. As professionals in higher education, we are consistently being challenged to assess and reevaluate the relationship between our teaching and administrative styles in tandem with our students’ learning styles. I am no exception. What has triggered this reevaluation? My son is extremely gifted, healthy, and can be described as otherwise “normal.” What makes him, and every other student like him, unique is that he is an autistic person; more specifically, he has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). My perspective on student learning has undergone reevaluation due to my need to help him navigate the world around us.
Asperger’s Syndrome is described by Catherine Lord as a developmental disorder falling within the autistic spectrum affecting two-way social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and a reluctance to accept change (p. 391). The most prominent features of this condition occur in three areas: difficulty with communication; rigidity and preservative behaviors; and often-profound difficulty interpreting the outside world. Most conversations are rapid, abstract, filled with figurative and nonlinear references, and depend on the ability to understand another's perspective. Many people with AS are highly intelligent, even gifted, but are unable to understand idioms, double-meanings, and body language, which often result in communicative misunderstandings. Many people with AS may be considered odd or eccentric, especially because of their challenged social skills, including the avoidance of prolonged eye contact and difficulty developing meaningful peer relationships. My son has some form of these deficits, some more prevalent than others.
Asperger’s Syndrome requires managing my son’s high need for routine and difficulty dealing with sudden change. It also means that his family, teachers and friends have to work through his sometimes wildly extreme...