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Giving Students with Autism a Creative Chance

By Mihiri Udabage - 19th March 2013

So I’m at the Creativity Project  event last week in Sydney, hosted by Big Fat Smile - an event to talk about the power of creativity in children’s learning and development.  Looking around, I see a packed audience of mostly women, and here’s my first thought: is bringing creative opportunities to children’s learning the domain of women?  If so, why?  But perhaps that’s a post for another time.

Professor Sandra Jones takes the stage, followed closely by her co-presenter -  author, Lincoln P. Jones. Their topic is How educators can help and inspire young people and develop their creativity and they have travelled a journey to find those answers together; Lincoln is Sandra’s son, diagnosed with autism at the age of 22 months, now 17 years old, a secondary student, author, and aspiring classical singer.  Later on, we will hear Lincoln read from his book of short stories and sing two songs, all pre-recorded, because speaking to a large audience can be scary. (Don’t we all understand that?!)

Sandra does the talking and Lincoln is seated on stage, his back to the audience, because it feels better that way for him.  Their message is straightforward – schools have much work to do if they hope to truly integrate students with autism into the mainstream classroom.  Lincoln’s presence on stage models their assertion well – no, he won’t be addressing the audience in the typical manner, and yes, it might have been easier to have him seated off-stage, but if allowed, he can still participate, and his involvement can add value.  His presence on stage is powerful.

Relating many incidents throughout his schooling that sidelined Lincoln, Sandra urges teachers and administrators to accept that adjustments in behaviour are not just the work of the autistic child – the responsibility belongs with them too.  Sandra says that the focus on his disability, not his abilities, have denied him opportunities to show his talents, and put him in a box, that frankly, doesn’t hold his capacity.

Keen to audition for the school play, they were told, “He can audition, but he won’t get a part.”  Answering an exam question about a poem that asked, What was the poet thinking when he wrote this? Lincoln responded, I don’t know, I’ve never met him.  Zero marks, though technically, correct.

The turning point came for Lincoln when he discovered creative writing, significantly, through a teacher who could see beyond instruction, and find his talent.  Although asked to write a 200-word piece of creative writing, Lincoln wrote 2,500 words, and instead of admonishing him for not keeping to the word count, she said, “Lincoln, this is absolutely fantastic.  You should get this published.”  Sandra says this teacher was the first person outside of their family to tell Lincoln that he was good at something.

After listening to pre-recordings of Lincoln reading from his book, and singing in a studio, it is obvious that he is talented.  I think of what a waste it would be if he had no opportunities to develop and show his creativity, nobody willing to listen. 

Lincoln’s message is a simple one – “Don’t fix me, I’m not broken.”

Image reproduced from smrt News

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