4th Graders’ Response to Autism May Surprise You

August 13, 2015
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

Imagine you’re an elementary teacher looking out upon rows of bright faces looking back at you. The class listens as you explain they are about to take part in an anonymous exercise promoting autism awareness. One of the children in class is a little girl who is on the spectrum.
The Assignment
You ask the class to write any question they have about autism on a blank card, OR any question specific to any of their classmates who have autism.*
When Chelsea Budde, founder of the autism advocacy group Good Friend, Inc., helped out a fourth grade teacher with this exercise, she didn’t expect the questions they received.
The School
Budde had specific observations about the school where the exercise occurred: “Sometimes we go into a school and there are different challenges. There might be socioeconomic challenges; there might be levels of incarceration. Really, connecting with kids with autism might not be a high priority for them. One of these presentations we went to [was] in such a community.”
The Questions
Budde revealed that the questions the students turned in were surprising: “A lot of these questions focused around: ‘Who is this girl going to marry? Is she going to have kids? Is she going to have a job? Who's going to marry this girl?’ And I thought what a strange question for fourth grade students to ask.”
Before answering, Budde consulted with an autism colleague.
The Answers
Perhaps it’s not a surprise the expert Chelsea consulted focused immediately on the socioeconomic factors facing this particular class. “I consulted with a colleague and she said this is really a poverty issue. They want to know who's going to take care of her when her parents aren't there anymore. Marriage for girls at . . . this school, having a spouse, having a partner, was critical to your survival. They want to make sure she is going to be able to do well out in the community. It went from why are they sexualizing this fourth grade girl because this isn't about that at all—this this is about who is going to provide for her.”
The Rest of the Story
Interested in what else Budde has uncovered? Listen to her podcast interview that’s part of CPI’s Unrestrained series (this fascinating Q&A happened at 25:05), and learn more about the inspirational work Good Friend, Inc. is performing to raise autism awareness at schools around the country.  
How would you answer if someone asked, “Who is this person going to marry?”
And don’t miss their music video, We All Fit!

*School administrators and the girl’s parents granted prior permission for this group activity.

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