Carly Fleischmann is a 17 year old high school student in a gifted program. She is funny, charming and has just finished writing a book called “Carly’s Voice” with her father Arthur. Carly is also non-verbal and is autistic.
Recently, I had the honour of meeting this very special young lady. My daughter is an actor, who was cast in a public service announcement for autism. Carly was the driving force behind this PSA. It’s called Carly’s Cafe and it gives the viewer an inside look into the world of autism. This simple excursion to a cafe, becomes anything but simple when seen through Carly’s eyes.
At the age of two Carly was diagnosed with severe autism and an oral motor condition that prevents her from talking. At the age of ten she had an amazing breakthrough. You can learn more about Carly’s story at http://carlysvoice.com/home/
When I found out that Vikki had been cast in this PSA I was so excited, because I knew that Carly was going to be there and that I would get to meet her. I have been working with autistic kids for more than 10 years and when I first heard Carly’s story about 3 years ago, I was amazed. And I must admit I was a little “star-struck” when I saw her. For me Carly represents the key to the mysteries of autism, that have been locked away inside each and every autistic kid I have ever worked with. As I sat back observing everyone around Carly, I realized just how little the “real” world knows about autism. Carly came to the set with her Dad Arthur and her worker Howard. It seemed to me that everyone else there was on edge, trying not to make too much noise or do something that might upset Carly. For me it was a bit comical, and I can’t say for sure but I think Carly enjoyed watching everyone walk on eggshells around her. It wasn’t until Carly’s Dad spoke to her like any Dad would speak to his 17 year old daughter, that everyone let their guard down….almost with a sigh of relief. It made me realize that unless you are directly affected by someone with a challenge, chances are you won’t really have a grasp on exactly how or why these kids do the things they do.
Well after reading the statistics on autism (1 in 88 children), Im thinking that learning about this neurological disorder will have to be put to the forefront. Not only for us but for our students. Many teachers seem overwhelmed with the thought of having “special needs” students in their class, yet others will jump at the chance. I have seen it first hand, being in a contained classroom we don’t always have the opportunity to venture into the rest of the school. So we encourage teachers to come and visit us. Again some teachers jump at the chance, some even take time out of their lunches to visit, while others have never set foot in our classroom. How can we teach acceptance, if you as the teacher are keeping your distance? I encourage each and every teacher to take five minutes out of their day and just drop by, say hi and I guarantee you, it will open up a whole new world. And please, encourage your students to do the same.
When we see children in the halls laughing at someone in our class or flinching as the autistic boy walks by flapping or making noises, we invite them in to our world. They usually come in to our room terrified but then 4 out of 5 of those kids ask to come back and spend more time. And nothing is more heartwarming than hearing one of those children explaining to a classmate “Oh don’t be afraid, he is autistic. His name is Jeffrey, say hi to him he understands even though he doesn’t talk”
Autism affects 1 in 88 children and these numbers are rising at an alarming rate of 10-17% per year. That being said, each classroom is likely to have at least one child on the spectrum in their class.
Do you feel you are qualified to teach children with special needs?
Are you doing everything you can to be inclusive?
What is the future for special education in Canadian schools?
You can see videos of Carly’s journey http://www.youtube.com/user/CarlyFleischmann