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Learning from the Differences

Mariana Guzzo, International School of Curitiba, Brazil

In recent years, autism has become a frequent topic in newspapers, magazines and education specialized press. In 2013, two of our students with autism participated in a special series of reports made ​​by Rede Globo (a local TV channel), which addressed the characteristics of this disorder that, according to experts, reaches 1 in every 100 people.


Jael Breitschwerdt, Nicholas and Thomas’ mother, telling her experience to ISC students and explaining what Autism is about.

This subject was highlighted after the implementation of Lei nº 12.764, a Brazilian law that establishes the “National Policy for the Protection of Rights of Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”Approved in December 2012 by President Dilma Rousseff, the measure ensures autistic people the right to enjoy the same inclusion policies of disabled people, establishing them the right to study in mainstream schools from basic to higher education.

Before the law was enacted, it was up to schools to decide whether or not to accept students with this condition.Some were against the inclusion of autistic children, mainly for fear of their adaptation into the new environment.Others, however, were receptive from the beginning, stating that when autistic people are put in contact with other students some of their typical problems, such as difficulty to socialize and interact, can be minimized.


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Nicholas surrounded by his classmates

Regardless the position of the institution about this issue, now it’s mandatory: schools in Brazil cannot deny enrolling autistic children in mainstream education and they shall provide learning and adaptation conditions to all students, even if they have an atypical development. And that’s what we did here at ISC, prior to this law, when a family from São Paulo came to us more than three years ago to enroll their two sons, Thomas and Nicholas, both diagnosed with varying degrees of autism.

“At first we were hesitant to admit them to our school, but with the help of Maria Helena Keinert, the head psychologist and director from “Self-Center” special school, their teacher aide, as well as their mother, we were provided with the assistance and information needed to deal not only with this particular condition, but also with diversity as a whole,” said Paul Combs, former ISC Elementary Principal


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Elementary Principal, Paul Combs in the end of the Autism Day Assembly, and Nicholas in the back. Accept More, judge less.

We cannot deny that the adaptation of Nicholas, the youngest son of the two boys, who has a more severe type of autism, was challenging. However, the combination of socializing activities in the morning at ISC (physical education, arts and literature) with the development of behavioral skills in the afternoon at the special school was essential to his progress and adaptation in our school.

Although the family returned to USA in June, 2013, due to a job transfer of the father, the result was certainly very positive for all ISC students who had the opportunity to socialize, interact and exchange experiences with their autistic peers. In addition to recognizing the characteristics and particularities of this condition, they now know that with respect and affection they can deal with adversities and, at the same time, learn from the differences.

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