UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 5 | May
Single Mom Conquers Learning Disabilities to Teach Others
Her autistic son was her inspiration
By April Wilson-Lange
Realizing her son was autistic and he was going to need a
special education, Cynthia Stark set out to learn everything
she could about the disability. She also asked herself what
she could do to help other children.
“I decided to take education so I could train other
teachers to work with autistic kids,” says the 35-year-old.
Since last September, Stark, who also has learning disabilities,
has trained to be a teacher in the Faculty of Education’s
Fine Arts and Media Education (FAME) program.
Stark has perception and sensory disabilities that make it
difficult for her to track words from left to right and to
focus on more than one thing at a time. She also developed
dyslexia, a language-based learning disability, after contracting
measles at 17.
“Since I learn through images and feelings, Fine Arts
and Media Education is geared to the way I learn,” she
The program, she explains, integrates the arts and technology
into every subject. For example, she used a Mac laptop to
produce a 26-minute film to help teachers understand autism
and give them some basic training tools.
“Many of the teaching methods taught in this course
come from teaching kids with disabilities,” she adds.
The FAME program incorporates the theory of multiple intelligences,
which advocates that kids are good at different things and
should be taught according to their strengths. This is a technique
that Stark uses everyday with her son Kieran.
“Autistic children don’t know how to make sense
of the world and they can’t modulate the different sensations,”
she says. “They can be taught but it takes a long time.
You have to find out what they’re good at and go from
Stark dreams of one day creating an organization in Canada
like the U.S.-based Center for Autism and Related Disorders,
which develops individualized behavioural programs for children
based on their capabilities.
Once she finishes her program, Stark hopes to work as a substitute
teacher until she finds a full-time teaching position.