Today we had the first of two consecutive in-service days devoted to work on the Common Core. The morning, however, turned out better than I anticipated.
We saw a documentary titled, “Wretches and Jabberers“. It was one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a while. It focused on Larry and Tracy, two men with autism, both from Vermont coincidentally. They are advocates for global education about autism. These men lived a challenging life until technology that allowed them to get heard and express themselves was introduced to them. They use various devices to ‘type’, which for them means ‘talk’. And boy do they talk! They are so articulate, have an amazing perspective, and a poetic use of vocabulary. One takeaway was that we can’t judge intelligence from the outside and that we should be more accepting and give everyone a chance.
In the film, Larry and Tracy had traveled the world connecting with other people with autism and without, presenting at conferences, and finding their purpose. They proved how important it is to be open to those with differences.
When it ended and we all sat down from our standing ovation, we were treated to a question/answer session with the stars of the movie. Larry and Tracy were there in person using iPads to “type” and “talk”. I was struck by their perseverance, their knowledge and use of language, and their amazing senses of humor. When asked a question from someone in the audience, they began to compose their response. They typed it out, taking as much time as they needed to articulate and communicate clearly and effectively.Here are a few quotes: “Unless people look for intelligence, it is not seen.” “Autism is not an illness but a different way of being.” “Learning about me is seeing through my autistic behaviors and steering my attention towards higher level activity.” “I am a person with autism second and an artist most of all.”
In the afternoon, we reflected on the morning’s presentation. We thought about how it challenged our thinking around assumptions we make about children. One thing that came to mind for me was the power of connecting. Larry and Tracy were helping others with autism get connected and not feel alone. The power of being connected, and giving each of them an audience for their thoughts, art, words, and intelligence was life-changing for many. Isn’t that true of children in our schools? I also reflected on how important it is for children to express themselves in a variety of ways, given the right tools, support, and confidence. That’s where schools and families play such an important role.
Let’s all work together to support ALL children, hear their voices, and be more accepting.
Photo credit: Nancy Colbourn