Category Archives: Learning

Not a person with…

Since this came up again recently, in several mediums, it’s an important topic to talk about.

I’m Autistic.

I do not identify as a person with autism.
I also definitely don’t suffer from autism, so if you think that you are totally on the wrong blog.

 I’m working on my Master’s right now and even when I submit papers, my teacher will try to correct me. “People are more than their disability” the red notes in the margin say. Oh yeah, I’m more than autism but autism is me. Autism affects my daily life, like it or not. The only time I’ll say I’m living with autism is in reference to creatures I live with, humans or felines.

I choose to use identity-first language and this is a conscious move on my part and the part of many other self-advocates. When I get politely told off by parents and professionals for saying “River Tam is autistic”, those are the little moments where I get to try to have a teachable moment. Would you say a “person of Italian heritage” or would you simply say an Italian? How about “a person with homosexual tendencies”? We teach educators and professionals to use person first language, but like gender identity, how about we ask they person how they would like to be identified. Let’s not make assumptions because of how a person looks or how they behave.

There are many different branches in the disability population who do prefer person-first language over identity-first. Again, I am speaking specifically about the autism community. Personally I’ll respond to being called pretty much anything, but there may be an eye roll if the phrase is really condescending. The point is; it is our choice on how we want to present ourselves to the world and the significance of our word choices. For decades it was parents and professionals speaking out and advocating for the autistic community. We have now found a voice and should be respected for the things we have to say.

Autistic is not a dirty word.
It is a strong word.

Reflections on Camp

I’ve been M.I.A. these past two weeks as I was working at the S.P.E.A.K.S. camp in Columbus Ohio. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far, but it was also very draining for me on a personal level.

I was the Film Instructor and helped the campers make and edit their own films. I also worked with the theater camp closely and made a ‘behind the scenes’ film for them. The videos they made were easy “how to” ones such as “how to make chocolate milk” or “how to go on a trip”. The editing process was a lot of fun and I learned everyone loves adding sound effects to movies. (Michael Bay, I’m looking at you.)

The reason why the camp was so difficult for me was, in a large part, due to my inexperience of teaching. I’ve always enjoyed helping people learn, but being actively involved in the learning process for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week is a lot of work for me. Some days, it was difficult just to get my TA, freelance, and graduate work done.

Despite the exhaustion, rewards of the camp far outweigh the energy loss. For me, having the campers ask me about the next movie we will make made my heart glow. Seeing them pose for pictures in front of the sets they painted themselves with such pride is a feeling I can’t describe. Hearing stories about these kids having behaviors and quitting other activities, yet they stayed for the entire two weeks in camp every day was really eye opening for me.

This was a camp run by Autistics for the disability population. We found ways to help support each other in self-regulating while helping solve some of the communication issues that will always come up while working at a camp. It was such an open and accepting environment. When someone would do something or get upset, we’d just let them know it’s fine and we ALL understand getting overwhelmed.

At a personal level, it took a couple of people saying things (sometimes repeatedly) to realize how far I have come in just a short year. I’ve been able to handle complicated and urgent crisis with a grace I never knew I had. Solving problems quickly and effectively while making sure everyone feels safe and taken care of is not something I think I could have done as well last year. It’s been eye opening to see where I am now and how much I have grown.

This also completely sets me up for my next two weeks. I’ll be getting a chance to talk about why art really matters and how it can help people communicate. Needless to say, the universe hand delivered some answers to me. As one parent said to me, their child learned more than just the film or theater skills we set out to teach.
They learned so much more.
Me too.

Learn with me

There are many different learning styles and not everyone learns information the same way. It would always bother me when my assignment in school was to write my spelling words twenty times each. This was a special type of torture for me because I can’t physically write for a long period of time. Taking notes during classes never worked for me either because I’d be too distracted to concentrate on what the instructor was saying.

I’m a visual and kinestic learner, so I learn from seeing and doing. When I’m leaning how to do something for the first time, it is easier for me to watch someone else do it first. This is part of why I’m really interested in acting or flow (object manipulation) because comprehension comes from actively doing the activity. If someone tells me information, I’ll either try to make it into a picture in my head or the information won’t stick.

Some of my friends can listen to entire lectures and ace a test without ever reading a textbook. They learn well listening to audiobooks, can react quicker to conversations, and work well listening to a lecture in a class. However, if they were to get only picture instructions of how to assemble a bookshelf they might get really confused as to how things work together.

A visual learner would be able to understand the diagram and know where the pieces go together. Reading how-to books, looking at class notes, or through pictures. In classrooms, they learn from powerpoint presentations, not just the person reading the presentation aloud.

Kinestetic learners are doers. They learn by physically experiencing an activity. We had amazing projects in biology where we’d build chemical compounds using little plastic pieces in different colors to represent the different parts of the structure. My friend taught her children fractions using lego pieces. If I had ever had the opportunity to learn fraction that way as a child, it may have made sense.