Book Review: Autism Everyday

Alyson Beytien is an Autism Consultant and the mother of 3 boys who are all on the autism spectrum. In other words, she is not only an ‘expert’, but a superwoman!  An autism specialist, Ms. Beytien’s collection of essays (originally published in Autism Spectrum Quarterly magazine) give parents and teachers practical strategies for living with, and teaching, children with autism.

As with all diagnoses, those diagnosed with autism range from low to high functioning levels, and absolutely every variation in between. An informative and insightful read, Ms. Beytien broaches the subject with humour and anecdotes from her family’s daily routines and challenges.  From her son’s obsession with trains to the decision to send one of their sons away to school, she shares the emotional roller coaster that she and her husband ride daily.

A fairly quick read (thank you!), Beytien avoids unending medical jargon and includes short lists of practical strategies at the end of each chapter.   Broaching the subject from the perspective of the parent, Beytien  shares her families daily life challenges with the reader, giving us not only her professional insight but (more importantly) her insight as  parent of 3 boys living on the spectrum.

Whether you have a child diagnosed with Autism, or you work with children who live with autism, this book is essential for your personal reference library.   For this teacher, Beytien has passed on some golden strategies that I am excited to try in my classes and has given me a deeper insight into the daily challenges of families experiencing Autism alongside their children.

Author:   Jacqui Davidson

Teaching Tip: The Inclusive Dance Class

Life can go on now, the 2012 Olympics have come to a close!

One young man stood out during these games.  Though he didn’t win any medals for his country, he garnered something much more valuable – the respect of his fellow athletes, and a roar of support from the packed athletic stadium.   He will always be known as the young man who had the courage to step up and break down the barriers created within the International Olympic Committee, becoming the first Paralympic Athlete to compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Oscar Pistorius.

 Today’s post is a continuation of a post from early July on the inclusive dance setting, so it seems appropriate to include a quote from Mr. Pistorius (or rather, his mom).


“You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”    

 — Oscar Pistorius, 2012 Olympian and Paralympian, double amputee since childhood.

Here are a few tips for working with the child/teen/adult students who live with different abilities…but then, we all have different, unique abilities!

  • Get to know your student.    Know that the diagnoses given by doctors does not give you much insight into the behavior of the individual or the persistence and patience of the individual with themselves and within the label.
  • Observe and try a few different approaches.  Just like you would with any other student!  You may very well be blown away by how able your student truly is!
  • Communication is key.   With the family/parents, with the student, and your class.   Children are smart – they are aware of the differences between themselves and others, often times they don’t understand why the student acts differently or has different needs than themselves.   Talk to the class and explain it in a way that is age appropriate.  [TEACHABLE MOMENT!  Here we can teach our students compassion and understanding in dance…].  NOTE:   Ask the parents if they would like to be involved in this process – often they have very effective ways of explaining their childs’ differences to other children.
  • Modify your expectations (if needed).   Teaching a child who has different abilities can be frustrating if you expect them to learn in the same way or at the same speed as the rest of your class.  By modifying your expectations you can alleviate your frustration as well as the frustrations of the student and the class.
  • Talk to the student.   Regardless of the age of the individual – when issues arise in class (as you would with any other student) talk to them directly and in the presence of the parent (so they can support your decisions and approach).
  • Follow the students’ lead –  let them guide you as to whether or not a concept/movement is too much for them.    Again, take the time to observe.
  • Research.   Do your research.   Local organizations have access to current research as well as contacts within the community that can give you insight into specific disabilities.  Many structured forms of activity are offered for people with different abilities –  call, ask questions, find out how they adapt movement and activity.    The world of sport is light years ahead of the dance world in this area – contact your local sporting organizations to see if there are any paralympic events happening in your area.  Check out this excellent resource as well – Alphabet Kids!
  • Patience.   Patience.  Patience.   It may take you awhile to figure out how  best to work with the student – be patient with both yourself and the student.  The learning process might take longer, and/or the changes may be subtle to everyone but you and the parent.  But when you get there,  to that moment of achievement — its awesome!
  • Acknowledge the baby steps along the way (as with any student).  Acknowledgement builds confidence and self-esteem, which in turn motivates the student to continue with positive behavior/focus/etc.  It can be something as simple as a subtle behaviour change, or a subtle change in a range of motion — acknowledge acknowledge acknowledge!

Remember that  disabilities are as unique as the person that has been diagnosed.   There is no one cut and dry way to teach an individual living with a disability – whether the diagnosis is intellectual/cognitive, physical, or neurological.   You can count on one thing for sure – it will surely be a teaching adventure!  That said, this list is a good place to begin the journey.

Bravo Mr Pistorius, Bravo!



Author:   Jacqui Davidson 

Every-body’s got the Ability!

[see note below to find out more!]


This writer would like to believe that we live in a time where inclusion and accessibility is part of our normal, everyday existence.    Wouldn’t that be wonderful?   The reality, unfortunately, is that those who live with disability still face a lack of awareness, accessibility, and even a lack of willingness include, throughout our society.


Thankfully the dance world has been breaking some of those barriers!

(can I hear a go team go?!)


Today is specifically about the inclusive dance studio setting.   Over the duration of my career  there are more and more children diagnosed disabilities coming into our dance classes every year.   Diagnoses have  included Down’s syndrome, developmental delays, hearing impairments, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and other neurological disorders as well.

Since working with this exceptional population of dancers, colleagues have asked me what the best teaching practices are for these students.

The short answer?  Adapt.  Be willing to adapt both movement and expectation, if needed.

The long answer?  Teaching is teaching.  Whether a student lives with our without disability, regardless of physical facility of the individual,  it comes down to this – we are all human whether we walk, roll, speak, or use a keyboard to speak (or whatever!).  We all need encouragement and support, and we all can move within our own physical ability, therefore every-body can participate in and benefit from experiencing dance.

Teaching is a process, learning is a process.

It is key to BELIEVE  that all students are able to ACHIEVE, in dance!   In my opinion it is only the limits (stereotypes, assumptions, and fear) that the non-disabled world places on those with different abilities that prevents them from exploring the world of dance.   The notion of modifying expectations is key;  it may take longer for a differently abled student to learn a movement or to catch the subtleties in the music, but that only means that it may be a longer process.   And after all, at the core of dance training is the process of learning ~ which then takes us to the performance!

Stay tuned for more posts focusing on dance and disability ~ teaching tips, teaching challenges, and more!


Many thanks to Ellie’s mom and dad for letting providing this photo of her at her dance recital.   Can you tell what label Ellie has been given?   Ellie has Cerebral Palsy – she uses a walker on a daily basis and her parents have a special wheel chair for her as well, there are so many challenges that they face together – and do it with tremendous grace.    You can see one of Ellie’s teachers there behind her, giving her a helping hand.  The best part of this photo?   The smile on this child’s face – tapping alongside her dance friends, as excited as any other little girl to wear that polka dot costume and bows in her hair, dancing for her family and friends.   Joy. Joy . Joy.


Looking for more information on the different diagnoses of disabilities?   Have a read through our  book review of Alphabet Dance – an excellent resource for teachers!