How do you as an individual access and process information? That was the question James and his English classmates at community college were supposed to answer in their most recent assignment. It was called an “information literacy narrative”. I didn’t read it until today when I saw that his teacher wrote a note saying he brought something unique to the topic. I do know that it was tough for him to write (some tears), because he was asked to reflect on a topic that reminded him how different his life is compared to those who don’t have autism. Regular readers know his story but it is interesting to read it through this lens. I hope it helps others.
“Attaining the Information of the World”
My current environment stimulates and allows me to continue growing in my information literacy. I have a multitude of resources for receiving and sharing information. I am a college student, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts, I write a quarterly newsletter, I have a personal blog, and I often listen intently to those around me. I consider myself to be information literate. I am able to listen and process information presented to me in a variety of formats. I pride myself in the speed at which I can auditorily process information. However, all of this did not happen overnight. My journey from prisoner to college student is one of struggle in finding ways to access, use, and understand information.
Almost five years ago, I had very limited access to information, no ability to use the information I possessed, and was not being taught to understand what I heard daily. I have Autism and I am nonverbal. For this reason, I was denied access to information that I was presumed not to know or be able to understand. My learning consisted mostly of matching and repeating patterns. Then, one day my parents took me to meet and work with Soma Mukhopadhyay, an Autism and education specialist. I remember being taught a lesson about planes. I felt empowered by the fact someone felt I could understand a middle school lesson. I was asked questions to show my comprehension. Using a stencil board with the alphabet on it, I answered each question correctly. Everyone was surprised I could spell, and even more shocked I processed all of the information that was given to me. This day changed my life. I was given the opportunity to access information for the first time, and was able to express my understanding of that material. My shackles had finally been removed and using a letter board was the key that would allow me to freely explore the world.
After this discovery, my parents decided that learning with a homeschool program would be best for me. A few months later, I became a homeschool student. I vividly remember meeting my teacher, Shannon. I thought she was so smart. I asked myself on many occasions if I would be able to work for a whole school day. At times, I needed breaks. The transition from not being able to communicate the thoughts in my mind to having an organized school day full of educational input was overwhelming at times. I would get tired easily, and get frustrated with myself for not being able to point at the letters as easily I wanted to. This process helped me build resilience as a learner. Now I was able to learn at my grade level. I had the opportunity of accessing the meaningful information that I always wanted.
During this time and for the next year, I was also continuing to meet with Soma and mastering the use of my letter board. I worked on accuracy, fluency, and my teacher was also getting intense training. I was at the point where I could easily communicate my answers based on a structured lesson. I began to feel more and more confident in my communication skills using my letter board. The letter board truly gave me a voice. Now, I was ready to use my voice to express my thoughts and feelings. When Soma first asked me an open ended question, I was nervous and excited. As she asked, “How do you feel about your parents?” I had never felt more empowered. I spelled out, “Mommy, I love you. Dad, thank you for being my best friend.” The words resonated as if they had come out of my mouth. At this moment I realized the impact I could have on others. My relationship with information had evolved from access and understanding to use and meaningfulness. I could add a personality to my voice and share emotions not just answer questions. The world was beginning to open up.
By the summer of 2014, I had been homeschooled for a year and I was truly confident in using my board. I felt a significant connection to the world. Not only could I communicate and share information that I have learned and analyzed, but my mom had started a blog, www.returningjames.com, that helped me feel even more connected to others. She posted about my progress and also some of my essays. I felt like I was actually connecting with other people. One day that summer, my parents had a construction crew working on a project at our house. As I came out of my classroom and into the commotion of the kitchen, I heard several conversations and noises all at once. While my mom was busy in her own conversation, she noticed I was chuckling to myself, almost holding back a full belly laugh. She asked me what was so funny, so I decided to be honest and share. I spelled “the workers outside are having a conversation about you”. I couldn’t stop laughing. My mom joined me, but was also amazed that I understood their conversation because they only spoke Spanish. I didn’t realize I had picked up an auditory understanding of the language. Over time, I heard it spoken around me and learned along the way. What was most exciting for me was the ability to share a funny moment with my mom. I told her what I was thinking and she laughed with me. My personality was something I was going to be able to share along with my intellect.
Just about a year ago, I began a new journey in my relationship with information. After three years of being in a homeschool program, which allowed me to learn many study and writing skills, I decided to become a dual enrollment student at Northern Virginia Community College. I knew there would be some challenges, but I was eager to continue my journey towards independence. Navigating my college experience is definitely a step in my path. My very first class was Introduction to Psychology. I had some anxiety as I sat in my first college class. The buzz of conversations and the feeling I was being stared at caused me to feel overwhelmed at times. However, my communication assistant helped me through it, offering me some tough love at times, and I was able to not only finish that class but four other classes since then. I am now eager to continue learning how to use the information I am given to best serve me and those around me. College has allowed me to look at information and school through a different lens.
As a thirteen year old trapped in my own mind, I did not think I would be able to access information at will. I thought I would always have to teach myself from what I could overhear. The letter board has been the key to my freedom and my teachers have been invaluable in showing my how to use all of the information I learn in a meaningful way. I have become information literate because of my experiences and the guidance I have received. All of the knowledge I have come across is useless without meaningful application. I may have gotten a late start, but I am doing my best at taking advantage of my opportunities.