For Autism Awareness Month: An Interview with Mimi Goodwin, Mother and Special Education Teacher, on Life, Tech, and Autism
April is Autism Awareness Month, created to educate on and increase conversations and awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The Mayo Clinic defines ASD as “a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities.” The range of behaviors can vary along the spectrum.
One person who has seen autism from various perspectives is Mimi Goodwin, retired educator and mother to a son with autism.
In the audio interview below, Microassist CEO Sanjay Nasta spoke with Mimi for a few minutes about her experiences, including her interactions with technology along the way.
A transcript immediately follows the audio clip below. For information on some of the products and cultural reference made during the interview, please see our References section at the end of the page.
Hi, this is Sanjay Nasta from Microassist. Today we are here with Mimi Goodwin. Mimi, could you introduce yourself, please?
Sure. I’m Mimi Goodwin, and I am a newly retired teacher. I taught for 27 years as a regular ed teacher in elementary, as a dyslexia teacher, and as a special ed teacher in elementary. And I also happen to be a mom of a 26-year-old son, Mack, who has autism.
That was really interesting to me, is the two roles that you play. That brings a breadth of experience that we don’t often see.
This month is National Autism Awareness Month. And from what I was reading about National Autism Awareness Month, it was basically started to increase the awareness of autism, and reduce barriers for folks with autism, their parents. What are some of the things that you’d like people to be aware of about autism?
I think patience. I would hope that somebody, if they don’t know somebody with autism…in some cases, what they see is the hardest parts. But maybe they’ll get to know someone because they bring so much joy, even the ones that I’ve taught. And I’ve taught some, they make you so happy.
And there’s some hard times. Just as we have hard times. They might express it in a different way, and it might escalate. And the reason it might escalate is because maybe we don’t understand what they’re wanting, and they’re pushing it. But I think just knowing their routine, knowing how to keep them calm, even when there is a new activity, and you know you’re going to get some pushback.
Be prepared. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better, but it gets so much better when you attack the problem in the best way for that child.
That’s a really powerful message.
My mother actually was a special ed teacher, too. And she taught children with autism. It was kind of funny because Mack was under a year, and we had gone to her school, and I remember her saying, “I want you to know you’re very lucky. He is okay. He’s gonna be fine.” But then, when he wasn’t talking after a year, I was really concerned. And I knew, ’cause I started looking it up.
I think that was the hardest thing I’ve ever, ever gone through—was the fear. Because the only thing I knew was Rain Man. And I thought, “How are we gonna get from here to here?”
And I kept comparing him to normal children, normal children. And I’d almost crater … every other day, at least. Until I finally realized yes, there is an issue. But everybody’s got something, and this is our thing.
It was such a relief. I could almost breathe again. I wasn’t losing sleep. I wasn’t crying every day. I was able to find humor in it. Not at his expense, but…. So that was the hardest thing I ever did.
And then once—I was staying at home with him at that time. It was just spinning me. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. So I had a very good friend who suggested maybe I go back to teaching. And I did, and he had a wonderful daycare provider. And I came home every day, and he had done something new. And she wrote it in a book. And I wasn’t there.
I think my thing, emotionally, was, “Oh, I’ve gotta stay home with him. Because there’s something not right, and I’ve got to teach him.” Well, I would try to teach him and he wouldn’t respond. And so I’d start to crater. “Well, I can’t teach him because I’m cratering. And he’s not learning because I’m not teaching him.” So it was a really hard spiral that was kind of hard to get out of. But once I did, I could do it again. I had enough energy to move on and even think about having another child. And we did.
Interesting, is that move to acceptance seems to have-
… re-energized you.
Yes, and I would say, I just couldn’t imagine it. And I think the biggest fear—I was so afraid of it—but the biggest fear is what you hear about, or what you read about. And in our case, it was never that. It was such a pleasant surprise, that he brings so much joy. And either all his teachers were lying to me, or…. They said he was their favorite. But I don’t know. Maybe he was.
What is the role of technology play in helping kids with autism or more broadly, kids with a variety of disabilities, drawing from your experience as a teacher?
I’ll be flipping back and forth through teaching and a parent. But when we were first discovering that he had autism—I don’t think he had the label yet, but he was considered speech delayed. And so there was a program called Fast ForWard, which we used on our computer. He must have been four. And you wore headphones, and it was having him tune in more to sounds and directions. And he had receptive language, but not the expressive language.
So, one of the directions, trying to help him build up some stamina or to hold on to some directions in his memory long enough to follow through with those directions. So, like it might say, “Touch the green square and the orange triangle.” When we completed that program, he enunciated better, so I know he was tuning into that. Now that was early on.
Other ways, for him—it’s portable. And sometimes we had to use that as a distraction when we had to have him quiet. But he needed to be with us, and we had something to do. But for many more things for him for motivation, for learning, for socialization. I used Social Stories for him.
Have you seen lack of access to technology from your students, or for Mack that has caused issues, either for financial reasons or technical reasons?
As teachers, we have a limited time… As special ed teachers, we might have a limited time. We try to make it in there when the student is having that subject, and if it doesn’t run smoothly, you almost have to have a backup lesson ready to go if there is a technical issue. But the other thing is, is that a student already feels different, you know, at an emotional level. And that students with learning disabilities—and I’m just talking about your dyslexia or math learning disability—if they have that one deficit, in a sea of strengths, having that chance to have that knowledge ready to go, where they can log in—or they can even have their own, or do what they need to do—and run smoothly like that…I think it’s everything meshing together. That’s the technical side that I really see. And I don’t think time allows for the glitches.
That’s really challenging.
It’s very challenging.
Computers have technical glitches. And you’re in an environment where the special ed teacher’s time is limited. On top of that, you have a student who’s already feeling different. And the last thing they need is a computer getting in the way of their issues. And that’s something I’ve never thought of. So it’s kind of an eye opener for us, is just the reliability of the technology, the ease of use of the technology, so that it doesn’t cause social issues for the student. That’s a pretty powerful message.
Thank you so much for coming in.
Thank you for having me.
Rain Man — A movie released in 1988 in which Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic savant. Hoffman won an academy award for the role. See the American Film Institute’s page on the film.
Fast ForWord — “[A]n online language and reading intervention software that targets learning struggles at their core, starting in the brain.” Fast ForWord celebrated its 20-year anniversary in 2016.
Social Stories — On the Carol Gray Social Stories website, Social Stories are described as “a social learning tool that supports the safe and meaningful exchange of information between parents, professionals, and people with autism of all ages.” Social Stories were created by Carol Gray, Consultant to Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Autism.
For more on Autism Awareness Month, follow the hashtag, #AutismAwarenessMonth or #AutismAwareness on your favorite social media channel.
Photo credit: Photo by revac film’s&photography from Pexels.