#3: “You’ve really only met one person with autism” – Interviewing Important People

After some consideration, I have decided that I am more interested in mental disabilities and how they can impact someone’s school experience. I have been in classes with people with mental disabilities for over seven years, and I have seen some of the effects first-hand.

Obviously it would be ideal to talk to many people, but I don’t know many people that work specifically with students with learning disabilities. If I continue with my topic, I know I will talk with many different professionals, but for now I decided to ask my old homeroom teacher, Barbara Collette, who is a special educator at Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS).

I asked her what types of struggles someone on the Autism Spectrum may face, and what are ways that can sometimes help people on the spectrum make it through a school day. She reminded me that PwA (people with autism) are very different from each other. Autism is not clear cut, the cases are as individual as the people with the disability. She said, “Once you’ve met one person with autism…you’ve really only met one person with autism” (Collette). However, she was really helpful in talking about common struggles among PwA.

PwA, she wrote, “need to be taught the norms and habits of typical social interactions. We gather a lot of our social information from each other in this complex code of body language and tone of voice and gestures. For a person who isn’t taking that information in, or isn’t sure how to interpret it, social communication can be a real challenge” (Collette). So much of what people do in school relates to group work or interaction among students.

She mentioned that group work is very difficult for some PwA, “…a student can write a great research paper, but if the student can’t drive a car and you tell them that in order for you to grade it they will need to drive it out to Shoreham, you’ll never see how much they knew about the topic” (Collette). The way that some teachers grade students can be a real challenge for people on the spectrum, when it may just come naturally to someone else.

Lastly, she said that a lack of consistency can be quite hard. Places like MUMS constantly have extended or shortened classes. “Simpler routines, simpler schedules, visual cues, self reminders are key to building independence and if we create days in our schedule where even the adults struggle to read the schedule, kids are frustrated and PwA may find this especially challenging” she mentioned (Collette).

After emailing with Ms. Collette, I realized that PWA in schools is very important because every case of autism is different. I don’t know how I’m going to narrow down my topic. However, she has only further confirmed that it is really important.


Feature Image: WtS? 2015

Collette, Barbara. “Living On the Spectrum.” E-mail interview. 23 Sept. 2016.

Emily Pecsok

8 Responses to “#3: “You’ve really only met one person with autism” – Interviewing Important People

  • Hey Emily, I know I’m not assigned to comment on your post but I read this and I wanted to comment anyway… 🙂
    This is a really important topic that you researched, both to me and to the community. Reliable information about autism is rare, and there’s a lot of misconceptions in society. I think you could do some really great work with the information you find and make significant progress!

    • Hi Anna,

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I’m glad what I’m doing is important to other people, too. Unfortunately, your statement about reliable information is all too real, and I hope that I can figure out what’s true and false, and help educate the public.

  • Em,
    Interesting topic. I love how you tapped into your resources and got in touch with Ms. Colette. And your title: it’s perfect.

  • Emily,

    As Courtney noted, the title of your post represents the salient part of your interview. As I read your post my reflection is that individuals are forced to conform to the expectations of “education.” Is the experience, or process, of education an issue worth pursuing?

    Thanks again for providing a thoughtful post!


    • Casey,

      Unfortunately, students are often forced to work and learn in a certain way if they want to be successful in school. So I am really interested in how learning can be individualized, and how that can help PwA.


      • Emily,

        I am still thinking through your topic! If you recognize a social issue, and it seems that you do, what are the parts of “individualized” and “learning?” I know you understand the words, and can easily look them up, but what does “individualized” and “learning” mean to the “participants” in the context of your story? Parts+Context may equal why this is important to you and those you are advocating for.

        Great work and I enjoy thinking through these ideas with you!


  • I wondered if you might develop an interest in learning and the different forms it can take with the individual at the center. I can’t wait to see your idea develop!


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