A guest post by Jessica’s sister –
I am very proud to introduce Jessica’s sister, Hannah, and her first guest post. In reference to autism awareness and the need for services, Hannah shared something with me that I personally found very surprising. I asked her to please write a post to share her thoughts.
The other day, there was a story on NBC called, “‘You Don’t Outgrow Autism’: What Happens When Help Ends at 21?”. Mom watched it and then showed it to me, saying something about how eerily similar it was to our lives.
And it was, extremely. They described the upcoming wave of autistic adults as a “hidden epidemic”. My mom chuckled a little, because to our family, it isn’t hidden. It’s something we are very much aware of, because we live it every day. But, it got me thinking.
INCREASING MY AWARENESS
Until my mom started the blog, I wasn’t aware of how many people there were with autism. According to the CDC, “About 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder”. 1 in 68! To me, that seems like a lot more than I would have expected. Jess is the only autistic person I have ever known. I began thinking about school. I grew up aware of people with special needs, for obvious reasons. But, I realized that in all the days of all the years I attended school in our county (K-12), not once do I recall seeing a special needs student in the hallway. Not once. Not at lunch, not between classes, not before or after school. Where were they? In high school, I had no idea where the special needs classrooms even were. It isn’t something that we were ever involved with or that we talked about during the average school day.
Of course, I can only speak for myself, but it is something I would have been aware of. Thinking back on it now, I realize there was definitely an absence, and to me that speaks volumes. I would have loved to have seen special needs students integrated into the school. It would be good for the typical student, who may not be as aware because they don’t have a special needs person in their lives.
I think that, for the typical every-day person, maybe it is a “hidden” epidemic. The first step needs to be making it not hidden. I think it needs to start early, in schools, as well as communities in general. Then, perhaps, we can begin to make more and better progress.
Nice post Hannah.
For those of us lucky enough to have had children in schools where they are a visible and accepted part of the student body, maybe we get a false sense of the overall visibility of our special children in the community. It never really occurred to me that other schools within the same system would not have the same level of integration of special students into the student body.
Upon examination, it makes sense. Instead of having certain specialized classroom settings available at each school, students are funneled into certain schools within the county. Therefore, the students’ visibility is funneled. The visibility of the students are diminished even more when they are bussed out of the school they are zoned for, therefore out of their own community and away from friends or potential friends within their own neighborhoods.
While I understand the economic side of centralizing specialized classes, it does not seem that is what is best for overall awareness. By keeping a diverse population in all of the schools, it could go a long way in helping to teach all children understanding, acceptance, and build the awareness that we are all striving for at this time.
I was glad to read Hannah’s post and was surprised by the content. I believe her post will cause a lot of people to start thinking, and maybe that will lead to some important conversations.
Her post caused me to remember a time of self reflection many years ago. It was something I realized about my own behavior. It wasn’t a happy reflection, either.
As with the many other impacts Jessica has had on our lives, her special needs resulted in our family having the opportunity to be around and get to know many other children and adults with varying special needs and with their families. Many of Jessica’s classmates were in wheelchairs or had other special devices to assist them.
Naturally I had “seen” people with disabilities or special needs, but being around Jessica’s classmates and their families opened my eyes to how invisible these special people must feel at times.
Honesty forced me to admit that I was a part of that, and I didn’t like what I saw. I questioned how many–actually how few–times I had greeted any of those special people with a smile or engaged in any conversation with them. How many times had I ever simply leaned in to meet their eyes and just smile or say something. Had I shown that I actually “saw” them. Had I demonstrated that I knew these special human beings had, like all of us, the need for social engagement, acceptance, and validation?
It doesn’t feel good to admit I hadn’t. At least I hadn’t as much as I wish I had.
My eyes had been opened, and I began to notice that I wasn’t the only one who was missing out. I saw in doctors’ offices or even at the mall that people tend to shift their gaze or simply ignore someone in a wheelchair.
Sometimes the person who receives a smile, a touch, or a greeting isn’t able to respond. But there is a human spirit in that individual, and that precious person knows and can feel our love and respect. And, I can admit something else. My own life is richer for these interactions