Home > Family Services > Authentic Inclusion: A Prize-Winner with Autism

Authentic Inclusion: A Prize-Winner with Autism

This is a blog post by autism expert Lisa Jo Rudy of autism.about.com. Lisa Jo Rudy is a professional writer, researcher and consultant, and the mother of a 14-year-old boy with an autism spectrum disorder. Lisa is the author of Get out, Explore, and Have Fun! How Families of Children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Every summer, there’s a terrific county fair in our town.  4-H members bring their sheep, chickens and pigs for judging…  moms present their jams and pickles…  and kids submit their drawings, paintings, photos, K’nex structures and lego buildings to see what kind of prize they can win.

Of course, 4-H gives every submission some kind of prize.  But this year was a bit special in our family.  Our daughter, Sara, won “Best of Show” at the pet competition, for her presentation of her friendly rat, Reepicheep.

And Tom, our son, also won a Best in Show prize.  Tom’s was for an elaborate lego structure he’d created entirely on his own, all by himself, in his bedroom.

4-H actually asks each family whether the child entering the competition has any special needs.  In the past, we’d said yes.  This year, though, we went with “no.”

Our son, Tom, is nearly fifteen.  Diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) at age three, he is squarely on the autism spectrum.  While Tom is verbal and engaged with the world, he thinks, speaks and interacts differently from  his peers.  Typical classrooms are very difficult for him, as are friendships and casual chats.

But for Tom, creating unique structures with legos is a no-brainer.  He can build almost any lego structure he sees – and he seems to be able to figure out just how to create anything he can dream up.  The piece he submitted to the fair was very special: a café, complete with kitchen, tables, food, a stage, and a full-scale jazz band with piano and horns!

The truth is that Tom does have special needs under many circumstances.  But at the fair, his submission wasn’t just “good enough,” or  “adapted.”  It was, quite simply, the best in its class.

Where does your child shine?  What abilities does he have that make him not just “includable,” but outstanding?

Even if it’s just for a moment, in one setting, with one group of people – how does your child with autism earn real, authentic admiration and respect?

Check out the piano and horn players in the top center, the patrons at their tables, and the waiters moving through the restaurant.  Not shown are the real, working electric lights!

Tom’s café won first prize and Best in Show at the county fair.  Look closely, and you’ll notice that we’ve written “no” under “special needs.”

Read more from Lisa Jo Rudy at Autism at About.com  at  autism.about.com or The Authentic Inclusion Site. Check out our interview with Lisa Jo Rudy on this month’s Community Connections page – Stepping Up to Summertime Fun!

  1. July 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    My son is 19 with asperger’s syndrome. He shines when it comes to plant care and landscaping. He helped design and set up a vegetable garden for my sister. He mows lawns for several families and businesses. He is very conscientious about his work and, in fact, will not let me mow our own lawn because I do not do it right! So long as he does, that is okay by me.

    I am the author of a novel called Wicked Good, a fictionalized account of my life as a single mom with my son.

    Amy Faircloth

  2. Michelle
    July 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    My 15 year old son with Asperger’s has found his place where he is perfect…..on stage! He auditioned for his school mplay and was a natural. He remembers his lines and everyone else’s. He has zero stage fright and becomes whoever he is asked to become. It was amazing for me to see for the first time! After his first performance there was a crowd of people wanting his autograph!! He loved it and so did I. It was a beautiful thing to see.

  3. July 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    My son also has PDDNOS and LOVES legos. He has over 200 lego men and you cant buy them separately we had to buy that many sets to get the men. He just loves them. I am glad for your son winning 1st place. I never thought of entering 4H competitions.


  4. Anita Barker
    July 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    My 14-year old son is on the autism spectrum but also has psychiatric issues. He struggles daily with his school work and his processing disorder. He amazes me daily with the obstacles he overcomes daily. With medication, he has made awesome steps. He recently went to boy scout summer camp and was awarded “Honor Camper”. Another boy had badly cut his finger, and my son patched it up with this first aid kit he carries around. He also has recently discovered baking and we are enjoying his efforts. At soccer camp, they had a talent portion and he brought his brownies as his talent. His “talent” was the most popular of all!

  5. Anita Barker
    July 22, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    My 8-year old son is diagnosed with PDD-NOS along with some other serious problems. He learns everything orally and struggles with learning to read and write. He has fantastic control and does gymnastics all day long. He can walk on his hands and do cartwheels for an extended length of time. He also has a great sense of humor and loves to make us laugh. He is learning not to hit others when he is frustrated and was able to attend soccer camp this summer. Baby steps but he is taking them one day at a time! He is a joy.

  6. July 23, 2011 at 11:13 am

    My Son who also has PDDNOS also learns things orally. He is 15 and still cannot read above a kindergarten level. He loves legos and lego men. Going to six flags theme park and going swimming. He is learning not to hit others when frustrated and tries very hard not to loose his temper. He is in a private separate day school with two Autism life skills classrooms. They teach life skills and how to get jobs as well as his academics. He is working hard to get on blue level after loosing it to an aggressive outburst his first week of school. once he gets blue level he can go on field trips weekly.

  7. July 24, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Jenny – just to let you know, you CAN buy individual bits and pieces of lego sets via E-Bay. We just bought Tom a collection of “Battle Droids,” from the Star Wars collection. You can also buy second-hand collections, at MUCH lower than full price!

    By the way: a huge benefit of entering Tom’s work at the fair is that other families of our acquaintance stopped by to have a look at ALL the exhibits, and his (of course) stood out with its big ribbon. So kids have been complimenting him on his work all week – something that doesn’t happen all that often. And adults have been giving US kudos for our kid’s achievement – again, something that doesn’t happen often enough!

    Lisa Rudy

  8. July 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWESUM! How GRRRRRRRRR8 it must FEEL 4 the child & the entire family 2 find what interests him & learn he EXCELS in it!! How PROUD U ALL deserve 2 B!!! CONGRATS!!!!

  9. Joelle Andreas
    August 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Your son has inspired my 6-year old autistic boy who also loves LEGOs to create something of his own that mirrors your son’s restaurant. He has been building Star Wars ships and stations for a while now, and is looking for something more to do. Thank you.

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