No Big Fanfare…What I’ve Learned from my Autism Graduate Work

Autism Awareness

It happened with little or no fanfare. After eight months of online discussion boards, online responses, short video clips from professors, a ton of reading, quizzes, journal article reviews, and papers, lots and lots and lots of papers, I am done. I finished my final paper for my final class of my autism certification graduate work. Woo Hoo!

For the past eight months, I’ve devoted 2-3 hours, six days a week to reading, studying, writing and reflecting. My autism library has grown from a few books to over a dozen. I’ve downloaded dozens of articles on my computer for my assignments and now for future reference.

At the beginning of this venture, I wondered if I could do it. I honestly felt like I was in way over my head. Graduate school writing requires a different kind of thinking and interacting. I’m sure I birthed new brain cells in the process. My head literally ached at times trying to make sense of what I was reading and how I was going to respond.

I’m glad I did it.

It was a good thing for me.

Not only did I learn more about autism and how to educate children on the autism spectrum like mine, but I learned what it meant to be a student again. Instead of being the educator, I was the one being educated. It was a beneficial exercise to feel what my students feel when being taught. It made me even more aware again of what my students need to understand what is being asked of them.

What did I learn over the past eight months? Well, here are some things that struck me most during this time period.

Once you have met an individual with autism, you have only met an individual with autism. Not one person on the spectrum is the same. Not one! What works with one person, may not necessarily work with another. Patience, creativity, flexibility and a desire to embrace  individuals with autism as they are are, is what is needed. They are unique children of God who need our love, support and care; not our judgment and insensitivity to just ‘buck up’ when their senses are overloaded and they don’t know how to cope.

God has a plan and purpose for every person with autism. They may be just what the world needs to stop running the treadmills of life  to view the world from their God-given perspective.

John and I need to continue to deliberately teach social skills and provide more socialization opportunities for our kids. Good social skills will be just as important, if not more so, than academic learning. As Jake and Caleb continue to grow up, their social skills must mature. They have come a long way. However, how Jake and Caleb socially interact will make a huge difference in their day to day lives; especially when they reach young adulthood and either go to college or seek employment.

It’s not a time to panic. As parents of children who may grow up to be more dependent upon us in their adult years, we could feel very nervous about Jake and Caleb’s future. However, we have seen how the Lord has cared for our family in South Africa where there is little to no support for families who have children on the autism spectrum. If the Lord can meet our needs now, He can do it in the future too. We just need to continue to follow the leading of our Lord for the best interests of our children.

After all of the reading and studying I’ve done about children on the spectrum, I am grateful for all of the steps John and I have taken…some without our even realizing what we were doing…that have significantly contributed to Jake and Caleb’s development. In addition, God has brought people into Jake and Caleb’s lives that really assisted them in their speech, gross and fine motor development.

There are a lot of dedicated educators in the United States who care about children on the autism spectrum. I interacted with 60 different educators from California to North Carolina to Virginia and a dozen other States who chose to take these autism classes along with me because they want to reach and teach these children of the spectrum better. There were veteran teachers of 30 years and teachers who were earning their graduate degree before entering the profession. The one thing I wished I had been able to do was to meet these fine people in person and say “Thank you.”

I’m still a lifelong learner. God knew that when He gave me my children who continue to teach me more and more each day about life and what it means to be a good mom.

There are a lot of other things I learned during this eight month experience. Suffice it to say, I’m better for it.

Thank you to all of my family and friends who encouraged me during this eventful  ride. You helped sustain me; especially during those times I began to freak out and wonder what in the world I was doing. It’s behind me now. It’s time for some new adventures! Hopefully, I’ll be able to utilize some of the new knowledge I’ve gained to help me during the journey.

So, I’m done. No big fanfare. Just a grateful heart.

Photo by Daisy Sue of Flickr

2 thoughts on “No Big Fanfare…What I’ve Learned from my Autism Graduate Work

  1. Mary Ann Witherow December 13, 2013 — 5:13 pm

    I always knew you were a strong individual. When I prayed and asked God to send a special person into John’s life He truly answered far and above my expectations. I can think of no better couple than you two to teach/guide your children through the challenges of life: for Micah as he enters a new world and for Caleb and Jake as they continue their education.

    Thank you for challenging yourself to this course and for the wisdom it gave you..and methods to further reach the potential in each of your boys’ lives.

    Much love and you know many prayers for all of you!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Mom. John, Micah, Jake and Caleb are indeed my special gifts. I love you and so grateful to have joined the Witherow family. All my love, heather

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