The Hirsch Academy staff started attending conferences where Autistic self-advocates were presenting. Staff started reading self-advocate blogs and self-advocate autobiographical literature. The Hirsch Academy started inviting self-advocates into their classrooms and getting ideas and advice about all aspects of the Hirsch Academy program. They offered advice about the structure of the classrooms, communication and sensory supports, and innovative curriculum changes. Staff quickly realized this was exactly who they needed to align with in order to help truly understand their students. These were the consultants they were looking for. These were the true experts.
On the basis of this advice, Hirsch adapted to the new concepts of presuming competence, recognizing new ways of presenting academic information and the use of alternative communication methods for those with communication differences. These approaches, combined with the DIR/Floortime foundations and continued mentorship from the self-advocate community, were the perfect combination to ignite the fuel for the continued success of each student.
The Hirsch Academy is still learning, growing, and continuing the search for the best ways to support their students. They recognize that the approaches and techniques will shift and change as they gain more understanding. What will remain constant is the continued mentorship from the “true experts” from their community. Hirsch will continue to be guided by their team of trusted self-advocates who visit and work synergistically to implement changes that continue to make Hirsch Academy an incredibly warm yet intellectually stimulating learning and inclusive space for all.
In the words of one of Hirsch Academy’s Self-Advocate Mentors:
“The warm feeling when you enter the doors is generated from a building filled with innovative, caring professionals who go out of their way to make sure every student is engaged, happy, and learning without boundaries. They shine like a guiding star that other schools should model because beyond their amazing approach is a willingness to change their pedagogy as the staff learns more about the human mind. Hirsch is the blueprint for inclusive learning.” Laura Nadine, Self-Advocate, Teacher, Author