Kindergarten. That big looming chapter ahead of us that is leaving me with so much on my mind. I’ve heard it is difficult for every parent to send their first child to kindergarten, whether or not they have additional needs. On top of the usual mommy stuff, when your child is still working on communication and is mostly non-speaking, it can be hard not to be paralyzed with fear of the “what if” scenarios.
My biggest worry is that people’s misconceptions about autism and non-speaking people in particular will cause them to immediately make incorrect assumptions about my child. Misconceptions like “non-speaking autistic people have low cognitive abilities”, “autistic people are in their own world”, “autistic people can’t understand what you are saying”, “autistic children can’t learn the same material as typical children”, “autistic people don’t have empathy”.
Not a single one of these things is true, yet I hear them constantly from the media, organizations like Autism Speaks, educators, parents, strangers, etc. Thankfully, we have found the best source of reliable information about autism – actual autistics. There is an amazing and wonderful community of autistic adults (and in some cases, children and teens), both speaking and non-speaking, who do everything they can to help dispel these myths and explain how they experience the world around them and how their bodies and brains work together (or don’t work together!). I am so thankful for the fantastic books, blogs, and Facebook pages I’ve found over the past couple of years that celebrate neurodiversity and have helped guide us.
As Kindergarten approaches, it pains me knowing that he will have to “prove himself” as intelligent, understanding of everything being said around him, capable of learning age-appropriate material, and as a sweet and caring boy who is very in tune with everyone else’s emotions around him. He’ll have to prove this over and over in his life to new people and new educators who are inundated with myths about autism and frequently hold the idea that autism is a list of deficits to be corrected instead of a natural and beautiful variation in human neurology. My prayer and plea is that he and we can make a difference by adding our voices to the conversation and by educating others.
Some days I feel very anxious about whether the right people will be put into our lives to work with him and other days I feel like he is a beacon of light that will blow anyone’s preconceptions wide open. Someone that has worked with H actually just wrote us the sweetest note saying they had learned more from working with him than from any other student they had ever worked with. I read the note through tears then and I still get choked up every time I think about it! It gives me hope that maybe change can start here and have a ripple effect.
Maybe they’ll look at him and see what is possible when an autistic child is supported and respected for who they are, unconditionally. Maybe they’ll see what is possible when a non-speaking child is presumed to have normal cognitive abilities and spoken to as such and taught age-appropriate and interesting material. Maybe they’ll see what is possible when a non-speaking child is given sophisticated tools to communicate early on because we know they have the same full range of thought and understanding and emotion as anyone else and need their voice heard right this minute and not “maybe someday but let’s wait and see if they talk first”. Maybe…