Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Mask in My Teacher Toolkit

I try very hard to create a classroom that is welcoming of students natural ways of moving, of interacting with the world, and of expressing themselves. In the adult autistic community, we talk a lot about masking, and the effects of it on self-esteem. And then I watch my neurotypical colleagues, completely unaware of what they’re doing, expect those masking behaviors. And I watch myself use them all the time as well. And in makes me wonder, am I doing a disservice to my students by not teaching those skills?

Masking is a skill. The more skills you have, the more opportunities are available to you. But what if our students grew up knowing, not just that masking exists, but that it is a choice? The social skills curriculums currently out there teach “this is what you have to do” but how different would the educational experience of the next generation of autistic children be if we taught it as “this is what the NT population does/expects.” What if our behavior expectations where “here is how to do it/fake it” and “here are reasons/times when you might want to.” 

I know full well that my ability to pass, and thus have control over disclosure, has given me opportunities I might not otherwise have gotten. (There’s a reason this blog is anonymous.) My students may never pass for NT due to other disabilities, but don’t I owe it to them to give them the skills to try if they want to? When I have struggled with social interactions, I’ve gotten instruction (I, personally, found Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking at Work and Ian Ford’s Field Guide to Earthings particularly useful.) Why shouldn’t they benefit from the same opportunities? As a special educator, isn’t that my job? To make the general education curriculum accessible to my students?

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