How We Can Support Students on the Autism Spectrum

April 10, 2019


*This article was originally published on The Mighty.

On a recent trip to Disney World with my family, I had the pleasure of watching artist Stephen Fishwick create a painting of Goofy. While darting around his easel, flinging paint at the canvas, Stephen shared his history of growing up with developmental disabilities. What he had to say seemed to me to be a message worth sharing during Autism Awareness Month.

Like far too many individuals on the autism spectrum, or those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), Stephen was told he was “stupid” and that he “wouldn’t cut it” when he was just a child in elementary school. In fourth grade, a teacher went so far as to erect a wall of cardboard boxes around him in an effort to prevent him from distracting other students. Stephen had the last word, though. Or, more aptly, he had the last picture: at the end of the school year, the boxes were covered with intricate artwork.

In high school, a supportive teacher helped to channel that talent by encouraging Stephen to go to art school. And that changed the course of his life forever. Want proof? Consider this: the painting of Goofy that I watched him create — and which only took him 10 minutes to complete — sold for nearly $2,000. How’s that for not cutting it?

Stephen’s story resonated deeply with me. I lead an organization serving children and adults with autism and other complex behavioral health challenges. While many of our clients may never be able to live truly independently, and few will have the opportunity to become celebrated artists, their stories often have themes similar to Stephen’s. His words are a reminder that no student should ever be considered a “lost cause.” No matter what a person’s challenge, whether autism or developmental disabilities, they can make remarkable progress when given the right supports and encouragement. At the moment, however, our public education system is struggling to provide these tools.

Read the full article here.