My son Z loves music. He hears music in the sound of a running vacuum cleaner. Whenever he hears music he loves, he spins. When it’s a beautiful summer day and windy, he spins because he hears melody in the wind rustling through the leaves. Our world has lots of unwritten rules, music seems to be the one aspect that makes sense to him.
Z was diagnosed with Autism when he was 3.5 years old. I wanted to find a school that accepted him for who he is. SLC is Z’s third preschool. A school’s website can say all the right words, but as a parent what I want to see is those words in action. The team at SLC met with me three times before I even reached a decision. As a parent to a special needs child, all I want from educators is open-mindedness, kindness, and respect towards my family. My very first meeting with Chrissy (SLC’s Director & Inclusion Facilitator) embodied all these characteristics. Every time we met, she was transparent about what her team of teachers were capable of, and what steps we can take so my son is successful at school.
Autism is a communication and social interaction disability. Dr. Stephen Shore says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Keeping that in mind, I feel, a school where there are opportunities for my son to interact with “typical” kids does help his development. After a week at SLC, he started showing interest in tricycles when he never did before. What warms my hearts more than the leaps my son is making developmentally is what he is teaching his classmates. The teachers tell me his friends are encouraging, kind, and respectful towards him. As an adult, I have met educators who want to put my son in a box. “Oh he has autism, so he must not be capable of this and that”. The three year olds in Z’s class are learning respect and kindness towards differently abled kids and adults. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a valuable skill to learn.
I believe my son deserves to be accepted for who he is. That’s what we all want. To be accepted for who we are. As a parent to a special needs child, my one request to educators is to keep an open mind. Don’t make assumptions based on diagnosis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all the resources an autism diagnosis opens up. But I also want educators to challenge my son when needed and maybe get creative if a special needs child learns differently.
I’ll never forget the feeling of hope and welcome I felt at my first meeting at SLC. A nonverbal Autistic young man, Naoki Higashida wrote “I can’t help but feel that some imbalance in the world first caused neuro-atypical people to be needed and then brought us into being. Those who are determined to live with us and not give up on us are deeply compassionate people, and this kind of compassion must be a key to humanity’s long-term survival.”