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Faith, Hope, and Love...With Autism

04/27/2018 10:53:09 AM

Apr27

HTAA members, Meredith and Chana Altschuler 


​​​​​​​In August 2014, my husband and I pulled our then 14-year-old daughter Chana, who is autistic and non-verbal, out of the school system. We weren’t sure what we were going to do as homeschoolers, but we knew Chana was making absolutely no headway in public school. She even seemed to be regressing.

Because of the severity of her autism, I didn't believe at that time that Chana understood what I was saying to her. Though I was always kind and cheerful, I didn’t make an effort to prepare her much for daily life. It seemed useless to have discussions with her since I didn’t even think she understood a phrase as simple as “we are going to the store.” Her regularly hitting her head and crying was further proof to me that she wasn’t capable of “getting” was what going on around her.

In late September, one of my daughter’s former therapists told us about the incredible success a student of hers was having with Soma Mukhopadhyay’s Rapid Prompting Method (RPM). Soon our lives were completely transformed by RPM. Our homeschooling went from rote repetition of basic skills to almost grade-level learning. I couldn’t believe what was happening! Our autism journey had never been a real success story, no matter how many therapies we had tried (and we had tried them all). Now our daughter was making the strides we had only dreamed of. Her head-hitting and crying basically disappeared. We were connecting with her on a level I could never have imagined.

One of the things I love most about Soma’s method is that it is an academic program. So everything is based on learning — language arts, math, social studies, science, etc. I especially love that students are studying history. How amazing it is for our kids to learn about life, their hopes and fears, in context of what others have already experienced. Frankly, our whole world would be better off if more people learned from the experiences of our past! For autistic students, thinking about issues via academic subjects has the added bonus of decreasing anxiety, a huge struggle for so many of our kids.

April is not only Autism Awareness Month, but also the month America celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. Chana and I recently did an RPM lesson on Robinson, the first African American baseball player to play in the major leagues. When Jackie was approached by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Branch Rickey to join the team, they both knew that breaking the color barrier would be an incredibly tough journey for Jackie. He received taunts and jeers on the field (and even private death threats), but through his grace and fortitude became a champion for equal rights.

Chana rarely talks about her autism and I do not usually bring up topics which could be emotional for her. But when I told her she was invited to write here for Autism Awareness month, she became extremely passionate about sharing. So I thought it would be very interesting to ask her about her autism experience in relation to what we learned about Jackie Robinson’s life:

Jackie Robinson was judged based just upon his appearance. How does that relate to your experience with autism? Do you feel judged?

CHANA: I UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE WOULD NOT BELIEVE IN ME. KNOW AUTISM IS NOT STUPIDITY. AUTISM CONTROLS ME. FEELS LIKE HAVING A KNOCK OUT PUNCH. MAKES ALL OF LIFE INSANE. I MUTE ALL IMPULSES.

Interesting you mention impulses. Branch Rickey told Jackie not to fight back when others were attacking him. Do you think Jackie had to also “mute his impulses?”

CHANA: YES, KNOWING WHEN TO APPLY PATIENCE INSTEAD IS KEY.

Jackie was able to break the color barrier which helped lead to the civil rights movement. What do you see as the future for autism?

CHANA: AUTISM MAKES HEADWAY. AUTISM WILL FIGHT PROUDLY, MEANING IT IS ALWAYS A FIGHT FOR LETTING PEOPLE WIN A VOICE.

Everyone was not against Jackie Robinson. Many good people in our country supported him as he bravely stood up for what is right. What can others do to support people with autism?

CHANA: DON’T LET AUTISM GIVE YOU A MISIMPRESSION ABOUT SOMEONE. TALK TO THEM.

What if the autistic person has no way to communicate? For instance, they are not even using the letter board yet?

CHANA: [YOU CAN STILL] HAVE A NICE CONVERSATION. TELL THEM GOOD THINGS. THAT MAKES ME HAPPY IN MY HEART.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Chana and I hope you will initiate a conversation with someone with autism. Maybe a non-verbal or unreliably verbal person who would commonly be misjudged. Sit and read a great story from history together. Talk about “good things” from the lives courageous figures like Jackie Robinson who will inspire them and whose stories will sustain them as they fight to win a voice.

Sun, April 21 2019 16 Nisan 5779