Autism is often cast in a tragic light in the media. And although it's good to be open about the challenges our kids on the spectrum face, it's much more productive to focus on stories of kids with ASD expressing themselves and using their voices to create change.
Recently, I ran across two stories that show exactly that, and I want to share them with you as a counterpoint to all the grim autism news that seems to fill our Facebook feeds. Read these stories and hope. Read them and let the tears of wonder run down your face. Read them and know that our kids desperately want to express themselves and that our energy is best spent finding ways to foster communication and connection.
Meet Mollie-Raine, a 7-year-old with autism from Ireland, who penned a friend wish-list that touched the world. In the list, pictured above, Molly wrote:
- anbrstands [understands] me
- nos I have atesm [knows I have autism]
- smiles all the time
- cees me comgin wen Im sad [sees me coming when I'm sad]"
I think we all would love these qualities in a friend, and Molly's wish list speaks to how desperately she and other children on the spectrum want connection with the world and people around them (which flies in the face of many theories about autism).
Enter Emma (18), Ben (19), and Huan (19), three teens on the autism spectrum, who have been doing RPM with speech-language pathologist Elizabeth Vosseller for the past two years. In that time, they've really been able to express themselves, and along with a few other friends, they wrote and starred in the short film, "The Power of Words." Watch it here:
It's incredible, and it brings tears of joy to my eyes every time I see it!
All of these kids attend public schools, where they have no support for RPM and/or are in autism-only classrooms and are not receiving academic instruction. Earlier this month, Emma, Ben, and Haun used RPM to ask the Arlington County Special Education Advisory Committee for a meaningful, high-quality education. Check out their impressive self-advocacy in action:
MY EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT TO ME. PLEASE GIVE ME A CHANCE TO LEARN (Ben)
STOP TREATING ME LIKE I CAN'T LEARN. (Emma)
I ECHO WHAT MY FRIENDS SAID. I AM SMART AND SO ARE THEY. PLEASE RESPECT US AND GIVE US A MEANINGFUL EDUCATION. THANK YOU. (Huan)"
I love these stories, and they underscore the fact that autism is fundamentally a communication disorder. Although it's a disorder that can feel like, "A tornado ripping through [a child's] brain," to quote James, one of the teens who wrote for "The Power of Words"—and it often looks like a tornado's ripped through my house, thanks to my energetic, curious son with autism—too often we just see or hear about the tornado, not the child at the center of the storm. But those kids have a lot to say, and it's time for us to listen.