Friday, April 4, 2014


Five years ago I would have considered my son to be the exception.  Now he's becoming the rule.

I remember watching Drew as a youngster, he was fascinated by John Deere tractors.  Next came Hot Wheels, after that it was Star Wars and now it's Minecraft.  It's important to note that fixations alone do not make a child autistic.  The point is, as I've watched my son grow I've picked up on his areas of strength and his areas of weakness.  I guess it is easy to say that he gets stuck...and in those moments of getting stuck you can clearly see his autism.

Fives years ago my wife and I first began to hear about autism.  At that time Drew was diagnosed with Aspergers, simply put, he was/is a high functioning autistic child.  For the next couple of years my wife Amy read several stories and articles about autism.  We both consulted area experts and we helped Drew the best we could with psychiatrists, psychologists and lots of love and patience.  When we first heard about aspergers and autism it was pretty rare.  The odds were roughly 1 out of 150 children in 2009 were diagnosed with ASD.  As an educator I rarely had students that were on the Autistic spectrum.

To take it a step further, in the year 1999, my first year in the classroom, the odds were roughly 1 out of 400 children would be diagnosed with autism.  At that time it was uncommon.  Fast forward to 2010, my first year as Warner Principal, we had four students on the spectrum.  My second year we had seven students diagnosed with ASD.  This year we are over ten students that are on the autism spectrum.

In the year 2014 Autism is currently diagnosed in 1 out of 68 children.  That number is quickly rising. I will guarantee that you WILL have an autistic spectrum student in your classroom if not now in the very near future.

What does it mean to have a student with autism in your classroom?  It first means that we must all understand what autism is; (to paraphrase from so many sources that I cannot even count) Autism Spectrum Disorder typically means that the individual has social impairments, communication difficulties, lack of empathy and difficulty understanding social cues and norms.  This is just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak).  I encourage you to check out the links below for more information.  

On a more personal level I do have some advice for all educators.

1)  Autistic Students struggle with change.  Change of schedule, change of rules, change of routine are all difficult.  Creating a visual schedule is key.  It is also highly effective to front-load the student with changes before they occur.  If you know there will be a surprise assembly, you may want to talk with your autistic student before hand and give the student a "heads-up".  Visual schedules can be small (desk size) or large (for everyone to see).

2)  Autistic Students will not respond the way you hope or expect.  My own son struggles with eye contact.  When he was younger most people that encountered him would remark that he was rude.  My wife and I worked very hard to get Drew to understand society...our biggest wish was that society would understand Drew.  If you have an autistic student you cannot expect the student to understand sarcasm, tone and body language.  You need to keep it simple and straightforward.  If you are an "old-school" person that DEMANDS eye advice is, get over it!  Many autistic students will withdraw or shut down if you require this.

3)  Expect frustration, anger, depression and sadness:  Imagine life for yourself, what if people didn't understand you?  What if you went through life knowing and feeling different?  Autistic students feel this each day and this manifests into anger, frustration, sadness and even depression.  My wife and I noticed the depression in second grade.  That was our first clue that Drew needed more support than we could give him. Even today I still worry, I worry that he is depressed on the inside.  Our family has tried to become better listeners, more patient, more understanding and simply loving.

A few weeks ago a student that is on the spectrum came up to the office.  He looked very down and depressed.  I immediately tried a couple of tricks to perk him up.  I asked, "Guess what color my socks are?"  He just shrugged.  So I said it again, "Guess what color my socks are?"  I then added, "C'mon, just a guess, I'll give you a Hershey kiss."  Well that worked...he muttered, "White."  I replied, "WHITE! WHITE! Mr. Gilpin never wears white socks!"  I then showed him my purple socks that matched my purple tie!  He smirked.  I then said, come here it looks like you need a hug.  I gotta tell you, he melted into my hug.  That's exactly what he needed.  He just felt down and needed somebody to slow down and take care of him.

My advice: You need to be prepared to slow down and love your kids.

4)  Offer choice in your classroom.  What I have discovered is that students in general respond better to choice activities rather than being forced to do something.  This can definitely be said for students with ASD. My advice, use their fixation to your advantage.  You may find that allowing them to do what they are passionate about will bring out their best work and their happiest frame of mind.  Be willing to let go of the way things have always been.

5)  Allow your Autistic Students to share their story.  Notice I said not force them to.  My son chose to share his story during his fourth grade year.  This made a huge difference.  He had pictures, information and simply told his classmates about Autism and about himself. He took ownership and pride in the fact that, this is who he is.  If you have a student that is old enough to understand and share I would talk with the parents and see if they want to share their story.

April is Autism Awareness Month, you will see puzzle piece ribbons and you will see lots of "blue" for autism awareness.  I encourage you to learn more about autism, and I will assure you, you will encounter a student with autism, if not now...very soon.

This Week's Big Question:  Are you prepared to educate students with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Next Week At A Glance:

Monday, April 7th:  Reading Month Winners get a Limo Ride and Lunch at 12 noon!
Monday, April 7th:  Minecraft Club 4-5pm
Tuesday, April 8th:  PTO Meeting at 7pm
Tuesday, April 8th:  Minecraft Club 4-5pm
Wednesday, April 9th:  Assembly
Wednesday, April 9th:  Minecraft Club 3-4pm
Wednesday, April 9th:  String Team 3-4pm
Thursday, April 10th:  Spring Pictures
Thursday, April 10th:  New Kindergarten Parent Meeting at CAC 7pm
Friday, April 10th:  Consumers Energy visits the 4th grade

Staff:  I'm looking for any volunteers to help with our Lego Club. We should be starting in two weeks.

Articles Worth Reading:

68 Things To Know About Students With Autism @HuffingtonPost

Autism Awareness - Show Appreciation @PrincipalHowell

A Once In A Lifetime Trip To The Zoo (Take That Autism) @aspieadventures

The Starfish Story (Shared by Shelley Singleton) @Events_4_Change

Here Kitty, Kitty (take the time to read and watch the short video) +Spike Cook @DrSpikeCook

Epic eBook Guide +Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher

Organizational Apps @theOCBlog

We Carry It With Us +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

Hurt Heart +Joan Young @flourishingkids

Who's in charge here? @jonharper70bd

10 Reasons Why Vacations are Hard @ShutUpRun

40 Amazing Things You Will Never Forget +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Twinned with Autism (3 min)

Journey of Hope (13 minutes)

JMac Hoop Dream (5 min)

Touching...even if it is an ad. (2 min)


  1. Kid lit author Tom Angleberger has Aspergers. He calls it his super power.

    1. I think I heard that before, but it is a great reminder. I really enjoy his series that includes Origami Yoda, the Fortune Wookie and more. Its no surprise that Drew has polished off all of these books in hours, not days.

  2. Great stuff, Ben. Many of your suggestions benefit teachers who do not have ASD students. We can all learn.
    Good stuff, my friend!

    1. Thanks Barry! I love it when I walk into a classroom and the teacher has accommodated ALL the students with visuals and helpful tips...not just students with special needs. What is good for one, is often good for all.

      Thanks for your continued support.

  3. You have me thinking that some of the behaviors I see in my school may be related to autism. Thank you for this piece Ben. Each piece of yours that I read I learn something that can help me not only be a better educator, but a better person.

    1. That's the ultimate compliment Jon. I'm grateful for your willingness to read, share and support. I continue to try to positively impact people I come in contact with, if that is through this blog then so be it. Words to live by...Be the Change You Wish To See in the World!

  4. What a powerful post! Thank you for sharing it. You might want to check out Krissy Venosdale's post about her daughter and Autism. "Nothing to Fix"

    1. I will definitely check out Krissy's post, I highly value her thoughts and work. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  5. Ben, congratulations on this incredible post. Thank you for sharing Drew's story with us. Reading this reminds us that children and families all have a story or perspective for us to appreciate, and that may not be obvious at first glance.

    Drew's an outstanding kid with so many gifts. And he has parents who care about him.

    One of the most important things we do, as parents, educators, and people is recognizing the potential of those around us. Doing this helps coax their gifts to the surface so they can be nurtured and celebrated, for every child and every family. It's one of the most challenging and most rewarding things we can do.

    1. You hit the nail on the head Dennis! Recognizing each individuals gifts is important. Everyone can leave a lasting educators and parents how do we foster this?

      We focus on the little moments, the small victories that lead to big things. Most importantly we choose patience and love.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Dennis. I appreciate your feedback.

  6. Bravo! My favorite point that I think we can all apply autism or not is when you said, "My advice: You need to be prepared to slow down and love your kids." Thanks for posting! Good reminders for us all-

    1. I appreciate you reading and commenting Lori. I often hear people comment on the "rat race" of education and the "hectic-ness of life"...I even see people on a daily basis grow impatient because things are just the way they want them. Our society has lost patience, understanding and the ability to slow down. I truly believe it would benefit everyone.

      Thanks for your thoughts and feedback. I appreciate it.

  7. Love it Ben. This might be the best piece you've written. Telling our own personal stories gives us so much credibility with all the people we work with (parents, colleagues, students, etc.). Thanks for being a strong advocate for all the kids in your school community.

    1. That is high praise coming from my Twitter Father! I believe you are correct, showing vulnerability humanizes who we are and what we stand for. I try to be candid and transparent in everything I do.

      I appreciate your willingness to read and respond. Your feedback is always valued. Thank you for being a valuable member of my PLN and for reaching out to me when I first began my journey.

  8. Ben,

    I"m amazed, considering the fact that i just met your son. He is very lucky to have a father like you.

    Something that you wrote that rang very true for me was that your wish is that "society would understand Drew. " As somebody who had my own issues, it's important to remember that even if society understands a person, the person with Autism may perceive people as thinking about them differently. That's why it's so important to help people realize from an early age that they are cared about and special.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us.