This is the inaugural post for the column Where I’ll Be This Week. Staff at beijingkids will let you know what they’re doing so you can come out and say “Hello!” We’d love to meet you at these fine events our city has to offer!
When I was just a wee second grader, my mom jumped head long into the Special Education field. My mom’s special heart for students with special needs spurred from her own struggle with a mild learning disability. Although she overcame the hurdles of the disability and became the only sibling in her family to graduate from college, her heart ached for students who continued to struggle.
Teachers in this field often end up practically part of students’ families, since sometimes parents really need to turn to these teachers for help and special training. Sometimes teachers are the only ones parents can turn to for someone confident in babysitting younger special needs children. A sunny Saturday morning usually meant a student was coming around soon to jump with us on our trampoline or play cards with our already ginormous family of seven! Adding another kid or two really wasn’t that big of a deal.
I inherited and carried my mom’s heart with me to Beijing, where a mutual friend introduced me to Yvonne and Tianyi. Yvonne has shared with me intimate details of her life as a mother of Tianyi, who is on the lower end of the Autism spectrum. Yvonne is hardly ever able to find friends who can care for Tianyi, since he is very difficult to manage.
When my family goes over to visit theirs, he will sit in my lap waiting for me to tickle him or sing a transportation version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” If he really likes how I play, he’ll kick me continuously if I stop for even a moment and only stop kicking me with his heel until I resume. He enjoys when I count socks or marbles in English and he counts them in Chinese.
Yvonne has benefited from training from Stars and Rain. She’s more self-sufficient than other parents I have met whose children have much milder learning disabilities. But even she wears out.
For example, she struggled to know what to do when Tianyi insisted on stomping on the floor but her downstairs neighbors have complained over and over again about the noise. “Why won’t your kid stop stomping?” They don’t understand. She finally put an oversized mattress on the floor.
Yvonne also had difficulty finding teachers outside of expensive and highly qualified special education kindergartens who can guide Tianyi. She even started a kindergarten for Tianyi and other special needs peers since he needing something.
By supporting the Stars and Rain World Autism Day Charity Auction through social media engagement, making a financial donation, or by attending on Saturday, readers can make a real impact in the lives of students like Tianyi and moms like Yvonne. Through Stars and Rain’s efforts, parents and teachers alike have become better equipped to handle the every day hurdles faced by Autistic children.
Autistic Students Can Do Great Things
This week, our new School Editor, Jess Suotmaa, will be attending the auction along with beijingkids Brand Manager, Emma Xu. They shared with me their own stories of how children and students with Autism have affected them.
“Last year, I took beijingkids and jingkids marketing team to the QiZhi Special Education school for volunteer work,” Emma told me.
“I realized while there, that by meeting students with Autism, I could learn how to help them.”
“When I heard this young man sing and play piano, he did so beautifully. His music really touched my heart since I really had no concept that someone with Autism could have such a gift. I think most people believe Autistic people can’t do anything for themselves, but in fact, they can do some things much better than others.”
“We need to have more understanding about people with special needs.”
Teachers of Autistic Students Need Training
Expat teachers all around the country can sympathize with Jess’ concerns for students with Autism.
“I taught English sessions at local private homeschool, but the tuition was expensive and the teachers were strict. There was this boy who was adorable, but clearly had issues,” Jess started.
The homeschool where Jess taught was already meant for students in special circumstances and was considered one of the best in the Shunyi villa communities. Jess confesses she doesn’t have Special Education certification, but she suspected Autism or another learning disability.
In the United States, teachers are encouraged to note if students are performing below the average expectation, but then to report the concern to a learning specialist if differentiation of lesson plans over a set amount of time does not accommodate for this student’s needs. If the learning specialist or guidance counselor observes the student and determines further testing is needed, the student can get access to these tests and then state funds can be used to care for any additional learning accommodations.
In China, most schools do not have support systems that help teachers accommodate student learning differences.
“He was ignored by his teachers because he’s seen as a hindrance to class progression.”
This situation is not uncommon, even among the best of schools.
“Despite small classes and even though he was a few years older, (and much bigger and taller than the 3- and 4-year-old group he attended), he wasn’t able to learn much. The assistant teacher refused to give him special attention or extra classes, even if only four students were in attendance on a given day,” Jess explained.
Many of my teacher connections have reported to me that local teachers will just give up or they will get angry if students are unable to change. Although I do not condone these responses, I can understand that without proper training, teachers will feel that the normal issues Autistic children face are insurmountable. But training can change that.
“Of course he would often accidentally knock smaller kids down or hit them because he had poor motor skills, and the other kids were half his size. Then, he would be reprimanded.”
One day, Jess played a finger rhyme with her students, but he fumbled over his fingers when trying to copy hers.
“The other kids went on with the next activity while I spent extra one on one time with him. He was delighted to be able to place his fingers in the same way as the others, and he repeated that movement every time he saw me for several days after.”
We’ve been moved by the stories of these students who face extraordinary circumstances. We urge you to help Stars and Rain, even if the largest part you can play is by spreading the word that they need support!
Photos: Emma Xu, Yvonne