Meera in India

Meera is a first-year computer science major in the Lyle School of Engineering who is a Dean’s Scholar and Engineering Fellows Scholar, among other awards. During summer 2011, she was named a Maguire & Irby Family Foundation Public Service Summer Intern by the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility at SMU. She will be interning at Swasraya, a school for the mentally disabled in India, where she will design a curriculum and help students in order to promote inclusive education. She also plans to help raise awareness by updating the school’s website and creating brochures and fliers.

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One-on-one time with Jones

After my experience with Aishwarya, I felt like I knew how to handle autistic children. That’s why when I went to Jones’ class, I was completely confident in my ability to teach him. The teacher had warned me that he was very difficult and had a tendency to scream and cry when he was upset, but I did not anticipate that happening. 
 
I observed the class for a few minutes, and Jones seemed okay. He had been crying earlier that day so his eyes were red and puffy, but he was doing the puzzle the teacher had given him without complaint.  Then, out of nowhere, he got up, lay on the floor, and started writhing around screaming. It seemed like he was in a lot of pain, but no one knew why. It only lasted for a few seconds and after the teacher comforted him, he was back to normal.
 
The teacher said that he was one of her most difficult students (autistic children usually are) and that if this continued, his parents might have to send him to an institution for more severe cases. For some reason this upset me; I thought Jones was adorable and I secretly did not want him to leave the school. I volunteered to have one-on-one classes with him to see if there was potential in him that was not being tapped into.  We went to an empty classroom and I gave him a numbers puzzle. He completed that and the shapes puzzle in about two minutes. This was way too easy for him.
 
I then asked him to write his name in English. He wrote “Joe Baffy”; close, but there was room for improvement. I spelled out his name for him and told him to copy it down until he got it right. He wrote it correctly and looked up at me. I smiled and told him he had done a good job, and he made the high-pitched bellow he makes when he is happy. He proceeded to write his name perfectly 10 times, making his happy noise after each line. I figured it was the same incentive idea that I had used with Aishwarya; he was writing his name so that I would keep telling him what a good job he was doing. Not only did he write his name correctly, but when he was done he got up and did a dance. The more I clapped and encouraged him, the more he danced.
 
During my hour with Jones, I discovered that he was a wonderful singer as well. I would never have guessed this because he doesn’t talk, but he was keeping the beat on his leg and tapping his feet.  I noticed something else as well that I had read in books, but had never seen in action. Autistic children love attention; both students worked best when my attention was focused on them and only them. Of course it is impossible to have a teacher for every student in the school, but I think the autistic children should have at least an hour of one-on-one time with a teacher who will boost their confidence and willingness to learn.
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