The numbers are alarming. In 1975 one in 5,000 were being diagnosed with autism. Today, one in 68. For boys, it’s one in 42. Over the past two decades alone the prevalence of autism has increased by more than 600%. And while some of these numbers may be impacted by an overall larger awareness of autism, the reality in the schoolhouse is that we are just seeing more of these types of students walk through the door each year. In education we are dealing with an autism tsunami, and all of those unaware of this will soon take notice. It begs the question “what are we going to do with these kids?” But in the face of a tsunami, we are asking the wrong question. We can’t change the wave, but we can change how we receive it. What we must be asking is “what are we going to do with ourselves?”
And the answer is simple. Rise! Not just in our classrooms, but across the entire academic community. We must rise up our infrastructure, our capacity, and our resources so that all learners can be welcomed and supported when they show up to school. That means as special educators, making ourselves the in-house experts on autism. That means general education teachers developing the skill set to implement specific accommodations in a simple manner and knowing the experts to go to when needing help. Its means teams communicating and working effectively. It means schools having social skills groups, sensory break locations, and continued professional development on how to meet the needs of special learners as a standard. It means parents being used and valued as contributing team members.
It’s about beliefs, it’s about a commitment, it’s about us, it’s about me, and it’s about you. And it’s about time that we all came on this together. The wave is here, and there are only larger ones to come. Rise up, with me and with those colleagues you can reach out to. You never know who else you might bring up with you. Rise up! The learners of today and to come are depending on it.