From Surviving to Thriving
by Karen Krejcha –
Jonathan Chase is well-known and respected in the Portland metro area for being an advocate, educational consultant and mentor to youth and young adults on the autism spectrum. A bit of a Renaissance man, Jonathan is a man of many talents, including music, magic and motivational speaking. He spent many years traveling the country as a professional musician and his 2014 TEDx Salem talk, “Music as a window into the Autistic mind” has had over 200,000 views on YouTube.
Diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of 14, Jonathan has worked in the autism field since 2008, partnering with agencies, nonprofits and families to spread a message of understanding and awareness. Earlier this year, Jonathan ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to publish a book he wrote geared toward teachers in general education classrooms but also of benefit to parents. Hot off the press, “Surviving to Thriving: Classroom Accommodations for Students on the Autism Spectrum” is now available for online purchase. Spectrums Magazine recently connected with Jonathan to get all the important details.
What is From Surviving to Thriving?
JC: Surviving to Thriving is a book for teachers who want to better understand and support students on the autism spectrum in the classroom. It covers both big-picture concepts like social and sensory processing as well as very specific accommodations, such as supporting students transitioning from class to class, or ways to help students who struggle to turn in their homework.
What inspired you to write about this topic?
JC: I do quite a bit of work as a public speaker and I regularly speak to educators at conferences and university classrooms. I kept hearing the same questions each time, and when I looked for resources to answer them, I found a real gap in published material directed to general education teachers. There is a lot of material for parents, and big dense tomes for specialists, but very few resources for everyday teachers who want practical tools they can put to use right away.
How is the book organized? (Should you read it cover-to-cover or can you pick and choose which chapters to read? What is the style?)
JC: The opening chapters show the teacher how the classroom looks through the student’s eyes, detailing differences in processing and common challenges for students on the autism spectrum. The second portion of the book is broken into specific accommodations. Each chapter addresses a different topic, from group projects to meltdowns. I use examples from my own experience to show why these accommodations are important and how the student may view them, and then detail methods to implement supports and ways to adjust the support to match the individual student.
The book can be read through cover-to-cover or you can jump right into the specific area you working to address. Each chapter also has a synopsis for quick reference which is especially handy right before an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting.
Regarding classroom accommodations for students on the autism spectrum:
- What age student are the accommodations geared toward?
- What kind of teacher is the book written for?
JC: My book is written to support students of any age; the examples range from early elementary through high school but can easily be adapted to college settings as well.
My goal is to reach regular everyday teachers who want to support students on the spectrum who are mainstreamed but need some additional supports to really thrive in the classroom. There is a whole generation of capable young people who just need a few supports in the right areas to make the classroom work for them.
I also recognize that we ask a lot of our teachers. I set out to write a book that would make things easier not just for the students, but for the teachers as well. My systems are designed to be sustainable, easy to implement, and never single out students with special needs unless absolutely necessary. Many of the accommodations are “environmental” changes the teacher can implement every day, for every student, so they don’t have to change the way they do things when someone like me joins their class. The systems are targeted at areas of need common to students on the spectrum but every student can benefit from clear instructions or detailed schedules.
What are common areas of need for students on the spectrum?
JC: Obviously every individual has unique needs, but in general I see many students who need support with sensory and social processing, clearly-defined expectations, and systems that they can count on to remain consistent and reliable.
I also believe that many of our current systems remove the student’s agency in the name of support. My accommodations are designed to promote self-advocacy and to empower the student through shared responsibility and respect. Sometimes it’s not what you do, but how you ask the question that makes the biggest difference.
How would you define an inclusive classroom and why do you think that is important?
JC: An inclusive classroom supports all students and gives every one of them an equal opportunity to grow and learn. Ideally, it’s designed to support the teacher as well, allowing them to teach and support the students without having to single out those who need a little extra help. An inclusive classroom also respects all students regardless of their label or diagnosis.
It’s important because there are so many young people struggling in school for reasons that have nothing to do with their intellect or potential. We don’t need to segregate them from their peers or deny them the same experience as everyone else, we just need to make the classroom environment work a little better for them, and to ensure that teachers understand how students on the spectrum perceive things different from their peers.
Although your book is directed toward teachers, what benefit would parents have in reading it too? (Are there accommodation suggestions that can be included in an IEP?)
JC: While the book is directed at teachers I think it would be very helpful for parents who want to understand their children better or make recommendations at IEP meetings. Most of the accommodations from the book could be written directly into an IEP, and even if the specific tool doesn’t fit, I think there’s a great benefit in understanding the student’s perspective and seeing examples of how some students see things differently.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your relationship with the autism community.
JC: I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 14, as a freshman in high school. I struggled mightily as a child, and school was an absolute nightmare. I dropped out at the age of 16 to pursue a career in the music business. Today I run my own business as a consultant and mentor to teens and young adults on the spectrum. I run social groups, offer one-on-one mentoring services, and regularly consult with both parents and professionals.
I work as a public speaker and travel the country sharing stories of overcoming adversity, my journey to independence, and helping others understand what autism looks like from the inside. Whether it’s a group of parents, teachers, or other professionals I always try to bring them inside with a mix of humor and a positive message to leave them feeling good about the future and the promise we see in young people on the spectrum today.
I also serve on the Autism Society of Oregon’s Board of Directors as both the first person on the spectrum to serve and as the longest-tenured member of the organization.
What else would you like for Spectrums readers to know?
JC: My website, www.jonathanchase.net has details on my mentoring services and presentations. I also have a TED Talk “Music as a window into the autistic mind” which has over 200,000 views on YouTube. I run a Dungeons & Dragons group for teens & young adults on the spectrum. We meet in SE Portland every other Thursday, and the fee is $25 per session. I will be running more boffer (sword fighting) groups in the spring and summer, too.
JC: Both the print and e-book are for sale on Amazon and the link is on my website. People can contact me directly through the website or at firstname.lastname@example.org to order signed copies or bulk purchases. I offer discounts to schools and organizations who are buying numerous copies for their staff.
In addition, I am donating 50 copies of the book to schools throughout the country. Those will be going out later this winter. There are also a limited number of signed copies for sale through the Autism Society of Oregon, and 25% of each sale goes to ASO.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Spectrums Magazine from Autism Empowerment.