Local author Liz Becker, who has chronicled her son’s journey with autism for three decades, is one of several writers featured in a new publication “Autism – What Schools are Missing: Voices for a New Path.”

Drawing on the research and experiences of leaders in the field, including Becker, Temple Grandin and Stephen Mark Shore, the collection of essays examines the advantages and disadvantages of the public education system for those on the autism spectrum. The book takes a close look at successful strategies and supports compared to those that actually increase the educator’s burden and limit the student’s success. Educators can use the practical strategies detailed in the book to build an enabling environment for autistic students.

Becker, is the author of the book “Autism and The World According to Matt,” which chronicles life with her autistic son Matt, who has found independence and lives on his own. She also hosts a website and Facebook page by the same name.

Becker brings not only a mother’s perspective to her stories but those of a scientist as well. She teaches anatomy and physiology at Wythe Community College and Radford University.

Matt has lived on his own for several years, an achievement doctors said was impossible when they diagnosed him with autism decades ago.

In the book “Autism: What Schools are Missing,” the contributing writers discuss what they feel is needed in education to help with the influx of autistic children. For Becker, it’s learning how to de-code non-verbal communication.

“Most people are trying to get an autistic child to communicate the way they want them to communicate,” Becker said, by using speech, boards, laptops, voice activated tools. “What they are missing is that the child is speaking to them; they are just not using words. There are 12 ways autistic children communicate and speech is just one.”

Other forms of nonverbal communication include touch, facial expression, eye contact and eye gaze, gesture, paralinguistics (sounds rather than words), writing, art, music, their personal appearance/clothing and body language.

Another way is proxemics or how close they stand to you.

“You can tell how comfortable they are if they are trying to back away or come closer,” she said. “It’s a way of knowing their comfort level.”

Matt didn’t speak for years and is still speaks very little, Becker said.

“I don’t listen to just his words; I read his whole body,” Becker said. “I can ask him questions, and based on what he is showing me, he can answer me yes and no. Based on what he is showing me, I can finally figure it out.”

Becker credits Matt’s local special education teachers with helping him thrive at school, but that was decades ago and not all children are as lucky. Becker said that today schools are often too overwhelmed to deal with each autistic child on an individual level.

“Paraprofessionals have more than one student and are not able to focus on each individual kid, and with each child, it is different,” she said. “I think the book is going to help schools. I really do. It talks about funding and talks about the stress on teachers and how, without the right training, they have their hands full. We need to get more training out there for teachers.”

Becker recently finished her second book, “Listening to the Heart,” which is about nonverbal communication. It will be published this summer.

“Autism – What Schools Are Missing: Voices for a New Path,” publishes on April 9. It is available for pre-order at retailers and online in paperback for $19.95.

To reach Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email mrothrock@wythenews.com

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