Tommy and I: An Autism Awareness Story

I started my journey in education as a dedicated aide for a kindergarten student with autism. For those unfamiliar with that term (also may be called a 1-1 aide, etc.), my job was to assist this student all day long in all ways possible. This included academically, emotionally, and physically. My student, we’ll call him Tommy, was in a self-contained special education classroom with 5 other students. Tommy and I got to visit the general-ed classroom when they had Specials or during lunch, but for the most part it was just me and him. 

Although Tommy had difficulty communicating, (he would usually just repeat any questions or statements said to him), he was reading at a 2nd grade level. Certain sensations were magnified for Tommy. Tommy had a very specific lunch his mom had to pack everyday because he wouldn’t eat anything else. Sometimes he would have outbursts when frustrated and I would do a breathing technique with him where we would hold up two fists of imaginary flowers, and he would smell the flowers in one fist, then blow out the petals in the other fist. My favorite memory of Tommy was when I was showing him picture cards to name, and when I showed him a picture of a duck, he responded “Aflac.”

The following year, I became a teacher. I greatly enjoyed seeing the growth that Tommy had made, and felt that I really made an impact. I learned so much that year about autism, and wanted to be able to make an impact on more children’s lives. 

I was surprised to learn that Autism Awareness Month was first established in 1972. It seemed like such a new, growing disorder to me those few years ago when I was consistently exposed to it. I recently read a great statement from the NY Office for People With Developmental Disabilities which said, 

“For the last few years, many in the autism community have encouraged the broader population to move beyond awareness to acceptance and appreciation of autism. In my opinion, that’s a welcome shift, and I am happy to embrace the designation of April as Autism Acceptance Month.”

I think this call from “awareness” to “acceptance” is a necessary progression. Many are aware of autism, and now it’s time to really accept the differences that autism, as well as any other circumstances, may present by being able to connect to one another…. like Tommy and I. 

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Benita Bocar

Benita Bocar

Benita Bocar is a former teacher in the Washington, D.C and Atlanta, GA area who received her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She now utilizes her Communications degree from St. John’s University working in Marketing at eLuma, where she is able to still impact students' lives in the world of edtech.