14 December 2010

~ no such thing as stereotypical ~

For a brief time this year, it was my privilege to help structure a few school based activities for a child with autism. I wish we could have done so much more than we did...

It had been a while, several years actually, since I'd really worked with any children or students identified as autistic -a student whose life and education is impacted, often negatively, by this "disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior." When a friend recommended that I read the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, I couldn't wait to dive right in. A murder mystery book, written from the point of view of a 15 year old boy with autism, the book is a fascinating study in differing perspectives... differing worlds... a musing of what it just might be like to see and experience the world through the filter of autism. Without doubt, it is an eye-opener and thought provoking on several levels.

What impacted me powerfully as I literally "devoured" this book was how, even in a field where we like to say that we individualize education to meet the identified unique and specific needs of each student, we tend to use stereotypes to communicate and sometimes? Sometimes we rely more on those stereotypes than on observation and experience to determine needs, or to develop a plan of action.

I find I often do the same with family and friends. I respond based upon what I think I already know about them. Perhaps one of the best ways we can extend grace to others is to evaluate situations and interactions at face value- ready to allow our knowledge to grow (changing old ideas because of new information)  and allowing that knowledge to guide us to act differently. When co-teaching and collaborating with other educational professionals, this is what I try and encourage my colleagues to do. I want to help them to grow in their knowledge of different types of learning challenges. More importantly, I want teachers grow in their knowledge of individual kids who so often struggle in school -big and small people with God-given, unique personalities, histories, talents and abilities... not just the someone who creates more work by insisting on learning a different way than everyone else...

Now, I don't really think that most teachers actually think that thought. The teachers I work with love their students and want to see them become successful learners who love Jesus and pursue the knowledge of Him their whole lives... but often, because the individual gets lost in their work load - their actions look and their words sound as though all they see is more work and they aren't sure they can, or want, to invest that effort.

It is easy for me to criticize this attitude when I see it professionally... but how often do my husband, my children, my friends, my authorities, my students, my fellow teachers, the ladies at Bible study, the man who sells bread down the street... how often do these big and little people with God-given, unique personalities, histories, talents and abilities sense that same lack of grace and willingness to accomodate (or as Paul puts it, "become all things to all men") in me? I'm sure it is more often than I want or even imagine.

What do you think? Just how far are we called to step out, as followers of Jesus, to "become all things to all men... so that we might win some?" (from 1 Cor. 9), in our personal and professional lives, as well as in ministry?

One last thing... before I forget! If you are looking for an absorbing read - give this book a try. A quick warning: in a few places, I found the language crude and offensive. Thus I cannot give the book  an unqualified recommendation. If you do pick it up, let me know your reflections on this book and this subject.

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