I made a mistake while designing my research: I was too blindly optimistic about what my research question had the potential to unveil. My goal was to explore the future prospects for children on the Autism spectrum who have attended and are attending the Bubbles School. My research was set up in a way that sought clear-cut responses to clear-cut changes, yet Autism itself is all but clear-cut. One cannot know the exact cause of Autism for any given child, nor can that child’s place on the spectrum be precisely located. In short, it is a struggle even to discover what autistic children need to lead full lives, and the nature of support required to attain such fulfillment varies by child. As such, the obvious becomes not-so-obvious, and the little things—the little progressions in development—cannot be taken for granted.
Like a classic college student, I reverted to overlooking the obvious. Observing the children at the Bubbles School and speaking with staff members has helped me reel in my research fantasies and come to terms with the reality of Autism, a reality that I am still hard-pressed to accept. Experiencing, understanding and accepting Autism as it truly impacts its possessors requires a complete re-socialization of communication and social acceptability. For me, this process began with re-conceptualizing what a school is meant to accomplish for its students. During my first interview with Bubbles founder Sharbani, I realized that there was a bit of a disconnect between the answer I expected and the honest answer she proposed when asked about the children’s future after they leave Bubbles.
She said that those who are highly functional, or who have mastered enough social skills, will sometimes transfer to mainstream schooling. Other high-functioning students are taught printmaking and are allowed the space and resources to produce sellable textiles and art products. The path for those who do not reach the “highly functional” stage, according to our conversation, was not so clear. Only then did I realize that the outcomes for children at the Bubbles School are not necessarily meant to be vocational. Instead, Bubbles’ primary objective is to promote self sufficiency for each child and to mitigate—not eliminate—the amount of social support they will inevitably need from those around them.
“It’s all common sense, this stuff,” Sharbani said.
Eye contact. Attention span. Interacting with other children. Being able to sit still in a classroom. Using words to express feelings. Following simple instructions.
It seems that all children experience difficulties conforming to these skills at some point during their development, but the the difference for children with Autism is that the development of such skills does not come as quickly as our society would expect, and the rapidity with which these skills do develop for children on the spectrum—if they develop at all—is unpredictable. This is what Bubbles prepares for – years and years of compassionately and effectively filling sensory and communicative gaps that typically-developing children are able to fulfill with very little assistance.