How an International School Celebrated Autism

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Written by Aya Ninomiya

Sometimes, things have to be done differently… and that’s okay.

“…and next, we have Tornado!”

Fluffy paws made their way through for these excited students. 

It was a different kind of career day at this international school in Tokyo and the students had been waiting all day for the next presenter! Afterall, a mobile lifestyle with frequent transitions is not the easiest for furry family members. 

But not Tornado’s transient family. He came into their lives for a very specific reason.

Career day debut for this very special dog.

His primary job is to keep the security and safety of his two human brothers. For one brother, Tornado stays together with him so he doesn’t go off on his own when he’s suddenly triggered in public. And for his other brother, he needs to let his human mama know when he is about to have an epileptic seizure. These are just two examples of what Tornado was trained to do for this specific family.

His secondary job is to be involved with his first brother’s day to maintain calm and connect with him so that he can be his best. 

If you couldn’t already tell already, Tornado is a trained service dog for his autistic brother. (Check out 4 Paws for Ability where he trained and graduated from.)

A service dog was not an obvious candidate.

And it was not easy to get people to think outside the box. 

Even people involved the international school community who tend to have honed more flexible thinking skills. Many people resist change and show up with fear the unknown. Risks are introduced and not every step is forward moving. 

“Some students have dog allergies.”

Okay. We’ll make sure everyone knows that there will be a dog in advance. 

“Career day is for human careers.”

But is it? There are plenty of non-humans who have reputable, skills-based careers.

A whole school community stepped towards creating a warm and welcoming school that day.

Well, let’s be honest. It wasn’t just that day and that’s the whole point. 

All of the considerations put toward having Tornado present for career day was part of the process of learning and growth that this international school had to take into becoming a little bit warmer and more welcoming to differences. 

Autism doesn’t just happen in April.

This career day didn’t happen in autism awareness month but that’s okay. Isn’t it? Because Autism Awareness Month is about increasing understanding and promoting acceptance. 

Because autism happens everyday and autism IS every day. It’s neither a monthly theme nor seasonal.

Behind an inclusive school is a warm and welcoming community.

A compassionate child might wait to cross the finish line with the last runner coming in. A kind-hearted kid is the one who will mimic stimming for a minute to try out what their autistic classmate might be seeking in that experience. The welcoming child is the one that’s going to invite a friendless child to join because she truly believes everyone has a purpose in play.

I truly believe April isn’t just about raising awareness. It’s about adding one more win to the win-win solution. Spreading the celebration for differences.

A warm and welcoming community is made up of learning and growing individuals. 

Who knows how much of this culture will linger with an ever changing leadership team, faculty, student population and their families in international schools. 

Tornado gave me the opportunity to grow as a learning support coordinator. And that my role was not only about learning support plans, sessions and family meetings. Of course, they’re important but building school culture to be understanding and accepting is just as important!

A big thank you to Shanna & Kainado for sharing a furry and inspiring moment on career day. They shared a part of their lifestyle as a special needs family and gave our students, teachers and leadership team an opportunity to see life from a different perspective.

And thank you, KAIS Elementary & Middle School, for embracing the change towards the type of warm and welcoming school we’d all like to see more of. A growing and learning community that celebrates what comes with autism, special needs and all types of differences that connect us in the international community. 

Leave a comment below to share how your child’s school took a step towards creating a welcoming moment.

Written by Aya Ninomiya

Aya is trained as an occupational therapist and served as the learning support coordinator at KAIS Elementary & Middle School for the first 5 years in its running. Since resigning, she has set up a private online practice to serve special needs families living a transient lifestyle. 

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