When I was a classroom teacher, I always enjoyed the opportunity to teach students with special needs. They were not the easiest students to teach, but often I received the greatest rewards by doing so.
One year, I taught students who were gifted, and I had one little guy who was dually exceptional. Spencer had been identified as gifted and also on the Autism Spectrum Disorder spectrum. Because of his autism, Spencer had not been identified as gifted until mid-year of fifth grade, so when he joined us, he was timid and unsure of his new situation. Until that point, he had spent most of his time in the EBD (emotional behavior disorder) classroom, an odd setting for this mild mannered child, it seemed, but it worked for him because of the rigid structure it provided him.
That same year, across the hall from my classroom was the kindergarten/first grade special needs class. Tommy was a kindergartener who fascinated me. Like Spencer, Tommy had also been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Anytime someone asked Tommy how he was doing the answer was always the same: “Good, great, and excellent!”. He was generally a happy kid. Then there were those times when he wasn’t.
When Tommy became overstimulated, the only thing that would soothe him was the Sit’n’Spin. You remember those, right? It is a toy a lot like a lazy susan from your mom’s kitchen but with a pole sticking up the middle to make spinning faster and easier. Tommy would sit on it, wrap his legs around the pole and spin as fast as he could for several minutes, long enough to make most children a little queasy. But when he was done, he wasn’t dizzy! He would stand up, walk away, and return to his work. I was amazed!
Students with autism are often some of the most difficult students to teach and frequently misunderstood. I have always wondered what goes on inside their heads and how they perceive and interpret the world. Finally, we have a glimpse.
Naoki Higashida was born in 1992 and was diagnosed with autism at the age of five. He graduated from high school in 2011 and lives in Kimitsu, Japan. His book The Reason I Jump “is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the heard of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within” (from the publisher).
Possible Georgia Pre-K Connections: Nearly all Pre-K teachers have special needs students in their classrooms, with or without diagnoses, and many teachers lead special needs inclusion classrooms. Higashida’s book is easy to read and provides an insightful glimpse into a difficult to understand exceptionality.
So, why does Naoki jump? In his own words, “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky”.