Episode #206: Dr. Christopher Wyatt

Dana GoodierOut of the Trenches Podcast

Dr. Christopher Scott Wyatt is an autistic self-advocate and father of two neurodiverse daughters. He earned a doctorate while researching online education for students with autism spectrum disorders. His experiences living with physical and neurological differences shape his parenting. Wyatt consults with schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations on issues of autism, Neurodiversity, and active inclusion.

Trench story: is still there. Were forced to return to homeschooling for 3rd graders. IEP would have taken until Nov. to get eval done. COVID revealed that Sped services are severely underfunded. Retention has been a natl. issue. New t couldn’t handle daughter. It isn’t unique to his location. Chris was in the process of renewing his TX credential. In the greater Austin area, suburbs are self-contained. Micro-districts around Austin with 1 or 2 HS. Staffing shortages throughout the SW, Midwest. They had hoped to return this year after covid. District told them the school was getting 20-30 new enrollments every day. He was a univ. prof and his dept closed. Lost 4 M univ students nationally. Districts are getting inundated by families who are moving to “bedroom communities”. They have lived in CA, MN and now TX. CA & MN are community schools, district overlaps city. TX has charters w/in suburb limits. Similar to Beverly Hills who is its own school district. White collar flight. Not race/ethnicity. It’s parents’ type of work. His district isn’t set up for sped. They are set up for G/T. He asks (rhetorically): What would someone who doesn’t have K-12 training do as a parent? He went into preparing 3rd grade lessons. He knows parents who went into education & got cert. to help because they have sped child. He’s seen shortages increase since going into teaching in ‘88. It’s not just the $ being offered, it’s the lack of certified specialists. In PA, a charity funds paras go into CR. He gives input during his kids’ 504/IEP mtgs. Subcontractors.  They deserve the benefits. Don’t ask volunteers to staff schools is insane.

How does being autistic change parenting? He’s aware of the time he spent with special supports or without. He wouldn’t have a doctorate w/o supports. He knows how to advocate from his mom’s model. He gives input during his kids’ 504/IEP mtgs.

What are some of the challenges of being autistic with Neurodiverse children? He can explain daughter’s light sensitivity. Daughter isn’t body aware. Optometry appt. Had to go thru 1.15 hour vision test. Can’t really explain why the scoliosis brace is hurting. Lack of awareness of their needs. She cries b/c something overstimulates them. Behavior is a form of communication. Teachers don’t always understand that. We see kids from minority backgrounds as “troublemakers” when they actually have a neurodiverse condition.

Why do you suggest “awareness” and “tolerance” of autistics isn’t enough? Acceptance is putting the students in the classroom, mainstreaming. Peers may not integrate with the child. In this case, if he notices a child who is awarded socially (on ASD spectrum), he will say “I’m not part of the class.” He doesn’t feel valued. It isn’t the same as embracing. Integration into society is the key. His Ph.d. research was about an accommodation being offered to univ students was online learning- he concluded it wasn’t better for neurodiverse students. Computer-mediated communication isn’t the same as actually seeing someone smile in the same room. Success in our society isn’t just about academics. Neurodiverse students need to self-advocate. Undergrad students and K-12 students need to hone skills they’ll use in the workplace. If you’re already in a career, online edu is fine.

Why are questions about sex and relationships the most frequent you receive, even at education conferences (he’s spoken at in-services and at Sped conf)? 2-3 schools would be together in a district, talk about disabilities, cultural awareness. Social aspects of schools in 5-6th grade start to affect schools. He’d talk about twice exceptional children. Many teachers will ask him these ?’s after he talks at conf. Relationship topic comes out talking with HS teachers and univ. instructors, their students end up socially isolated/depressed. Self-harm. He’s lost 3 students during career to suicide. He can’t keep everything that’s going on outside of CR from happening. Social aspects interfering with academic performance. Many autistics have complicated gender-identity issues. They can’t be disentangled, they are entangled. ADHD girls are expected to fit in & feel a certain way. Neurodiverse kids often misunderstand romantic attn. being put on them. They’re often in abusive relationships. Often with females, gender fluid, non-binary. Nothing is worse for these kids than being rejected by parents due to their religion. Neurodiverse children aren’t always aware of abusive behaviors. As educators, we need to report what we see. Act as an advocate. Peers bully, sexually assault, discriminate against student with diverse gender identity. Temple Grandin, f.ex. has reported she is asexual.

Why do you suggest autistics disclose their needs at school and work? It’s not legal protection. Univ, tech schools, etc don’t fall under IDEA. Those kids expect an IEP/504 there. Parents, clergy, psychologists, etc. can teach student to politely request accommodation. By 5-6th children can learn this. Say “here are my needs, how can we work together?” story from Forbes about a gentleman about a man sitting after a leg injury on an assembly line. He was reprimanded. Hadn’t self-advocated.

How can educators embrace Neurodiversity? Our educational system/culture isn’t neurodiversity friendly. We want kids to sit @ desks w/ lots of stimulus, noises. They train new t’s for SLAANT techniques in a culture that doesn’t embrace neurodiversity. With neurodiversity it’s something we have to catch quickly. As t’s you walk a fine line, asking certain ?’s can get you in trouble. IT’s not your job to be an advocate for xyz community. Get the students to counselors. Know how to communicate w/ counseling staff. In some states, you’re mandated to report gender identity…Autistics sometimes have impaired executive functioning. We cram too much into 1st year t education programs. Teacher prep programs are influenced by BF Skinner, Piaget who wrote about the neurotypical child. Find ways to bring child in “How would you feel if I was on the floor screaming?” A truly integrated CR has a recording of notes, like during hybrid/remote teaching. Key to success is listening to your students, parents, sped advocates.

Out of everything…for teachers to listen to the students. On his own podcast, he talks 6 m, guests talk 50m.A good teacher will wait until someone answers. Give wait time. If your hunch says they don’t understand something, trust that hunch. Click To Tweet. Read their body language. Ask your child “what was good about it” when asking about their day.

Find Chris online: @theausticicme on most social media on FB @autisticme Perspectives on Neurodiversity podcast

View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7vebPzA7pR0



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