Someone asked me why would I teach my child age appropriate topics such as the American Indians, the arrival of Europeans to America, the Roman Empire and the difference between amphibians and reptiles, when tying her shoes, answering (whether verbally or by typing) a why question and riding a two-wheel bike has yet to be accomplished.
The short answer is – they are not mutually exclusive. It is not that one thing gets taught and the other is left to languish. I believe all these things are important for any child to learn; why shouldn’t my child have the opportunity to learn these things too? But just to play devils advocate, let’s say that the questioner still asks, but why? To them I say, because knowledge is freedom. Knowledge gives us context, history provides us with choices, knowing how our government works gives us important information about leadership, honesty and conversely dishonesty. Learning about geography gives us information about the physical world we inhabit. Reading Wordsworth or Shakespeare or Susan Sontag, studying a painting by Rubens or Renoir or Basquiat, listening to music by Rachmaninov or Ray Charles or, my daughter’s personal favorite, Gwen Stefani transports us, encourages us to think both analytically and creatively and enhances our lives.
Ralph Saverese, author of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption wrote a wonderful piece about a year ago, The Silver Trumpet of Freedom about his non-speaking, Autistic, son DJ who had just been accepted into Oberlin. It’s a terrific piece and I encourage all of you to take a few minutes to read it. I’ll wait.
What many believe to be true about Autism is proving again and again to be incorrect. What many believe to be true about those who are Autistic AND non-speaking is proving to be incorrect. Our ideas about someone who has physical challenges AND is Autistic AND does not speak are proving to be incorrect. Our incorrect beliefs are limiting how that segment of the population is taught and what information they are given access to.
This must change.