By Noreen Branley, a member of the SkillCorps® India July 2018 team
Years ago as an elementary school teacher of typical peers I often used Welcome to My World, a curriculum that strives to sensitize participants to the experience of people living with a variety of challenges. Simulation activities such as listening to a muffled audio messages and trying to translate what the speaker is saying, practicing writing your name backwards with the opposite hand you normally use, placing several marshmallows in your mouth and attempting to answer questions, taking a quick look at an array of items in a box and then tying to recall each item without referring back to the box and practicing walking around with a cane and blindfold. After students circulated through each activity the feedback was that they often felt frustrated, discouraged, or isolated. The curriculum did not include any activities that would simulate how learners on the Autism Spectrum may experience the world however I have an idea for a simulation…
Put the students on a 14 hour plane ride to India with a group of strangers-without their leader, feed them spicy food, add a rain storm in 100+ degree, have them sleep in a strange bed in a strange city, take a 5 hour car ride to get to their next strange bed, more spicy food, go to a crowded mall with novel money, people standing too close speaking an unfamiliar language, loud music and more spicy food.
Well, perhaps it couldn’t be done without a few parent waivers and lawyers!
As I began my adventure working with students with the Global Autism Project in India I’m glad I had the opportunity to put myself in the above situation. As I was having a hot flash at the food court in the Elante Mall I instantly thought of how our students may experience the world. This unexpected sensitivity training made me think about what would be helpful for our students and what would not be helpful. If someone started to physically prompt me through my exchange with the cashier that would not have been helpful. Being offered a cool drink, an empathetic response, and a plan to see an evening sunset on a beautiful lake was helpful.
In the future when I’m interacting with a student that may be having a difficult time – I will remember the feelings I had as I was having a hot flash at the food court in a crowded mall ordering more spicy food.