Multiple Voices: dialogue on Autism and education held at SUNY New Paltz

The Mid-Hudson Teacher Center (MHTC), School of Education and PREP for Success cosponsored a panel discussion at SUNY New Paltz that considered ways of supporting elementary and secondary school students living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

An audience of more than 100 students, faculty, staff and community members were in attendance for “Multiple Voices,” a stimulating discussion between five panelists representing varying areas of expertise in educating and aiding students with ASD:

  • Ann M. Martin, author of Rain Reign, a book narrated from the perspective of a girl with Asperger’s syndrome;
  • Man Fung Lam, assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning;
  • Jamey Wolff, Program Director for the Center for Spectrum Services;
  • Two additional panelists, a parent of a child with ASD and an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome, who asked not to be identified by name.

“The panel organizers did a brilliant job of finding participants who had complementary areas of expertise to contribute to the conversation,” said panel moderator Michael Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning. “I was honored and awed to share the panel with those individuals for the evening. The breadth and depth of their knowledge and their willingness to share their experiences was inspiring.”

Smith described the conversation as an important reminder of the role of well-trained and compassionate educators in helping individuals with ASD succeed, in and out of the classroom.

“Good teachers make a HUGE difference in the social and educational experience of our students,” Smith said. “An understanding of people with disabilities that transcends symptomology and deficits is important for more than just special educators. General educators also need the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to meet the needs of students with disabilities who may be included in their class settings.”

At times the “Multiple Voices” conversation departed from the realm of education to talk about the diverse challenges people living with ASD experience in society more generally, and measures we all can take to respond to their stories sympathetically and respectfully.

“‘Disability’ is the largest ‘minority’ group, and the only ‘minority’ group that anyone can join,” Smith noted. “Therefore, disability rights, access and opportunities should matter to us all. I hope sessions like this ultimately help to increase awareness, empathy and understanding.”

About the Mid-Hudson Teacher Center
The MHTC, housed at and strongly supported by the SUNY New Paltz School of Education, is a vital professional development resource for more than 13,000 educators in Dutchess, Ulster and Orange Counties, celebrating the talents of regional teachers and providing a network for them to share their talents with others. Its members endorse reflective practice, continuous inquiry and collegiality.

More information is available online.