Chalk it up to Activism! #BoycottAutismSpeaks

Iamnotapuzzle.jpgSo, some people may wonder why I do this activism stuff with my son… and some might even think that it would be better to shield him from what Autism Speaks says about Autistic people.

If I thought for a moment that it was just Autism Speaks that conveyed the negative messages about what it means to be Autistic or the family member of an Autistic person, I might be inclined to entertain that. I might be tempted to consider, for just a moment, that my son might be better off if I gave no attention to Autism Speaks and instead steered him carefully away to avoid the damage.

The thing is, however, that the reach of Autism Speaks, and organizations like them (for instance Down Under’s equivalent, ‘Autism Awareness Australia) have had an impact well beyond the edges of their supporters and their supporters’ friends. The sad reality is that I am raising my son in a society that too frequently views disability through the lens of tragedy, burden, and hardship, and too often frames his way of processing and interacting with the world as something that is beyond acceptance until it is cured, fixed (‘fixed‘ meaning that he can appear to emulate those who are non Autistic) or otherwise eradicated.

These stigmatizing attitudes about disability that are steeped in the language of pathology and cost and deficit are pervasive and we, as a society, have become so accustomed to this stance that many of us cannot even see how problematic it is. The prevalence of stigma is so vast and dominates the discourse to such a degree that it may not even be seen, or questioned.

Sadly… we may be so used to it that we do not notice it until we see its impact on ourselves or the people we love.

Part of raising this young man to be a healthy Autistic adult is giving him the tools and the perspectives to understand about his civil and human rights. I want him to know he can rail against stigma, and I hope that I am modelling that we can work from within communities of support to change things for the better by speaking out and taking action.

You see – this is a kid who has grown up in the era of Autism Speaks. It breaks my heart to say so, but Autism Speaks is the most recognized (albeit – wrongly so) organization to spread [mis]information about Autism.

My son, along with other Autistic people, is excluded by this giant machine of a corporation.

But what he has not been excluded from is the stigma spread by Autism Speaks. He has been surrounded by it since 2005… which is by far the majority of his life.

And the really, really sad thing is… that I know my son already has internalized the negative and stigmatizing ableist messages, language and attitudes that seem to be everywhere. It is insidious and I know this has affected him.

So there is work to be done… and I am hoping – no, counting on it – that this is enough to mitigate hate.

Sometimes it is complex and involves networking with others to counter Autism Speaks and show that there are alternatives.

Sometimes it involves signal boosting the voices of Autistic people, because theirs are the voices we should be listening to – first and foremost.

Sometimes it is carefully choosing my words when my son asks a question – or perhaps monitoring my responses so that I am fully supporting him as our relationship changes.

Sometimes it is understanding that fully supporting him means stepping back and getting out of the way.

And sometimes it is as simple as drawing images with chalk alongside H in our driveway, because this is something that sends a message as well…

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30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

©Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)   

This post is part of the T-21 Down Wit Dat Blog Hop: Click here to enter your link and view the other participants.

Posted in ableism, acceptance, Activist, Autism, autism stigma, Autistic, Boycott Autism Speaks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Talking with crows: A Sensory Break

Since H was very young I have made a bit of a habit of handing him my camera on long drives, or when he needs a break or is feeling overwhelmed… or when he points out something of interest.

This is also a really lovely way for H to handle crowds or noise – as it gives him some control, something to focus upon, and creates a little space between him and his environment with the camera as a kind of shield, or a mask, or a safe way to narrow his wide view of the world and focus in on something exquisite.

Yesterday at the ASAN Protest of Autism Speaks, H called me over to a little treed area and pointed out a crow that had caught his interest.

He was watching closely, entranced, noting and sharing how it made this clickitying noise…

I handed him my camera…

I love the way H can capture things: details and angles that I might not consider.
I love the glimpse into the way he sees things.
I love looking at the photos together later. It is like opening a gift!

H and I both agreed that these beautiful photos deserved a post of their own… so we are gifting them to you as well! ♥

"Talking with Crows"  by H: Photo 1 of 8

“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 1 of 8

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“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 2 of 8

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“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 3 of 8

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“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 4 of 8

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“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 5 of 8

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“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 6 of 8

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“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 7 of 8

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“Talking with Crows” by H: Photo 8 of 8


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30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in ASAN, Autism, Autistic, Communicate, perspective of others, Space and Pace, support | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

ASAN Vancouver: Protesting Autism Speaks #boycottAutismSpeaks

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ASAN Vancouver: Protesting Autism Speaks Walk. H is holding a sign that reads “Autistic Rights are Human Rights #lovenotfear”

Last week H and I made our way into the big city to attend an ASAN meeting with the newly founded ASAN Vancouver Chapter. (ASAN = Autistic Self Advocacy Network)

H was pretty quiet during the meeting, and was creating things on his iPad, but he was definitely listening.

He was at the table… and my intent is to support him in gaining a sense of community and a way to be involved in activism and disabilities rights should he so choose.

I cannot say if he will wish to continue with this as he transitions to adulthood – though he is my son and has a heart for social justice – so I suspect he might.

The point is though – that I see it as my role and responsibility to support him in connecting to other Autistic people as well as people within broader disabilities communities. I want him to know that his voice matters – that he has a place at the table – and he can sit – or not – but the possibility will be there for him.

His activism right now is about empowerment and pride – and supporting him in this is a way of mitigating the negative stigma of organizations such as Autism Speaks.

So… today we once again headed into the big city, this time to participate in ASAN Vancouver’s protest of the Autism Speaks Walk.

On the drive in we discussed many things, as is always the case on our drives. Today, among other things, we talked of stigma, and eugenics, and how sad it is for families to hear the message that their Autistic child is a tragedy… and be sucked into believing it…

H gets this stuff… and I can tell you that I feel pride in his indignance!
And he is proud to be playing a role in combating the negative messages!

So the protest was small, but it was almost entirely well received. Our rough estimate was that there were about 50 conversations today that were game changers, and an enormous amount of ASAN and #BoycottAutismSpeaks flyers were shared with people as well.

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Sarah, H, and Amethyst at the ASAN Vancouver A$ Protest.

H said: “If they knew what Autism Speaks is doing – they wouldn’t be walking – but protesting with us!”

I concur!

And maybe as a result of today’s efforts, some of those walkers will be along side us next year…

Because this is how change happens… and H and I agree that today was made of win!!

H, wearing his #BoycottAutismSpeaks shirt, is standing in front of an old building. He is looking at the Margaret Mead quote that has been painted on the side. Text reads: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

H, wearing his #BoycottAutismSpeaks shirt, is standing in front of an old building. He is looking at the Margaret Mead quote that has been painted on the side. Text reads: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in ableism, acceptance, Activist, Advocacy, advocate, ASAN, Autism, autism stigma, Autistic, Boycott Autism Speaks, Margaret Mead, social justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Voting “yes” – because I trust you… #bced

Yup… Voting ‘yes’ and that vote is not saying that I think this is a good deal… because it is not…

But it is better than I think we would get if we were legislated back… and I trust, respect and appreciate the work of our BCTF Negotiation Team.

Whether or not the deal is a go (and I hope it is) there remains some troubling deficits in the values of this government. These have resulted in giant corresponding gaps in the health, education, and social services support systems in our province, because the corporate model does not support the kind of society that cares for ALL of its citizens.

I have no doubt that it is the massive networking of groups, like BC Voters Supporting Public Education on Facebook, that are playing an important role in informing people of the issues and building understanding. When I talk to my neighbour, a man at the grocery store, the woman who cuts my son’s hair, or someone on the street, I am impressed with their knowledge of the issues and the level of their support. They are listening and they see things differently now. The issues are finally being talked about, largely because of social media, in a way that allows people to see through this liberal government’s spin and lies…

I am endlessly grateful for that… and I hope this continues to grow… in fact – I am counting on it!

A ‘yes’ vote doesn’t mean capitulation.

We held the line and we took this hill!

This is not a surrender!

Rather, it is an acknowledgment that this is the best teachers can do right now, but we still have work to do to support and fight for a fair and equitable public education, and our children’s rights to access this.

And teachers need your help!

There are actions that can be undertaken by parents, and community members, and School Boards who are willing to advocate along side teachers. Here are just a few of the possibilities that community members are already discussing and taking action upon…

• Elect School Board Trustees who care and are willing to speak up and advocate for public education (as is their mandate)
• Work to shift/end intervenor status of BC Coalition of Businesses in October’s B.C. Court of Appeal review.
• Work on Recall Process for BC Liberal MLAs who are not effectively representing, listening, or even talking to the citizens in their constituencies
• keep sharing info about Class Size and Composition (CS+C) and build informed networks of support to fight for social justice (issues in education intersect with many things – disability/poverty/etc)
• Support parents in grassroots actions such as possibly boycotting of FSA tests

I LOVE this last idea, put forth by a parent who suggested that families refuse to have their children participate in the FSA testing,  the one that is used by the Fraser Institute to rank schools.

Parents have that right to opt out… but many do not know this…

Imagine the time gained for students and actual teaching if enough families said NO to this particular standardized test: it would add at least a week to the instructional time in our schools.

Wouldn’t it be a powerful push back against this government’s corporate/political goals for BCED…

And then consider the potential chain reaction…

Maybe the Fraser Institute would be unable to RANK schools based on these shoddy standardized tests (with their questionable and statistically unreliable results) because nobody came to their elitist party!!

Now that is SOCIAL JUSTICE and collective responsibility in action!!

And as a part of our collective action we need to make sure we don’t turn off the heat on Social Media. We have growing networks of people who understand the issues and want to support and protect public education.

We must keep holding the BC Liberals accountable – feet to the fire (so to speak)… and we must not let them rest for a moment, with their false claims that they have calmed the seas and made things better for kids.

That hasn’t happened yet… but collectively, as citizens of BC, I think we can do this…

So I am voting ‘yes’… because, even though I don’t think the offer by the government gives us what we hoped,  I don’t think teachers are alone in this battle anymore…

And I trust the citizens of BC to have my back and to be there for the future of public education and the children of British Columbia!

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_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Autism, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Christy Clark, Collective Responsibility, family, Parent, Public Education, social justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ken Bramble: Connecting the Dots in #bced

Some may wonder why a blog that is generally about Autism would be so closely focused on matters of public education of late, but the reality is that these matters are connected, and there is an unquestionable intersectionality between social justice issues. Prejudice based on gender or sexuality, race, religion, disability, class, or the struggle for worker’s rights, or disabilities activism, or railing against racism, sexism, ableism, poverty… these all intersect when we talk about human rights.

The struggle for social justice is inherently entwined in fighting for public education, the rights of our students, and the worker’s rights of our teachers. When a system is chronically underfunded, those with the least privilege are the most vulnerable. However – there are some deeper trends and patterns here that are insidious, and disturbing, and need to be discussed.

The following is a guest post written by BC educator, Ken Bramble, B.Ed. M.A.  Ken is a N.Z. trained teacher with forty years of public school service. He came to Canada in 1966, and though he retired as an Elementary School Principal in 2001, he has remained a tireless political activist and a dedicated public education advocate. He is has graciously agreed to write this post to explain the trends and patterns he has observed, in order to connect the dots of the political/corporate agendas that have been influencing our system. Ken’s observations are of the school system in British Columbia, and is a supporter of equitable education for all B.C. students, but the implications of what he shares are frighteningly far-reaching and alarmingly applicable across a much wider global framework…

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Connecting the Dots

By Ken Bramble

Change has always been an important part of public schooling. Changes initiated and implemented by professional educators have been the foundation for improving teaching and learning in education for as long as I have been involved.

This healthy, if sometimes painful reality, ensured my ongoing enthusiasm for the work I was doing with children. I participated in the development and provision of numerous initiatives over the years; without exception these were designed and intended to improve the service we provided to our clients, the children of B.C.

Without fanfare or ceremony, change in our school system has insidiously and quietly shifted from best practice to political interference. I have witnessed this shift as professional educators and their expertise have been systematically removed from positions of influence and leadership, to be replaced with political appointees.

It all started for me with the removal of school catchment boundaries over a decade ago. This insidious move was made in the name of “Choice.” whereby, parents would now have more choice in which school they wished for their children.

Hello Competition: Using a corporate model, the political belief was pushed that competition was good in that it brought out the best in everyone. In the production of widgets, yes… in the education of our children, no. Declining enrollment and empty classrooms prompted school administrators to attract students from outside their traditional catchment areas. When this happened, Competition then began to replace Cooperation.

Magnet Schools: In British Columbia, this shift from cooperation to competition was most effectively done with the creation of “Magnet Schools.” Offering something additional which was over and above the basic curriculum, was intended to ensure special status within the schools of choice model.

Parents began to shop for a school before buying a house.

Fine Arts, Hockey Academies and perhaps the most attractive of all, Traditional Schools were now on the à la carte menu.

Enter stage right: The Fraser Institute and FSA (Foundation Skills Assessment) province wide standardized testing to build and foster the stress of competition. Test results were published for all to see and schools for the very first time were being compared using numbers.

The concept of Magnet Schools expanded to include schools better rated by the Fraser Institute. Like all magnets these schools pulled students from schools in what were considered less desirable socio-economic areas. This was the beginning of a downhill slide in public education, where equity and universality had always been hallmarks of a healthy system. Rapidly, we witnessed the creation of ‘Have’ and ‘Have Not’ schools within the public system. In effect the result was a complex of ‘pseudo Private Schools’ within the public system. Chronic underfunding combined with this competition have subsequently placed huge amounts of pressure on our schools. Fund raising has become an essential service, further exacerbating the differences between schools.

Okay…  now let’s get to what is really going on and what is behind these changes?

We can only speculate of course and pull together the threads from various sources, but in my personal view our schools system is being subjected to a political agenda which is global in influence.

The Teachers’ Strike: Currently in British Columbia, our schools are closed pending a resolution of differences between our teachers and our government.

But… is this just a labour dispute?

I don’t think so.

Our BC Teachers are fighting for the survival of a public school system which is consistently rated in the world’s top ten. For what it’s worth, I have for your consideration a probable cause and I will lay out for you why, in my view, we are at a crucial tipping point.

After connecting the dots and undertaking considerable research I propose the following possible explanation of the actions and motivations of the government:

Get rid of the Teachers’ Union: Our current government wishes to remove any union involvement in schooling. In addition they want to privatize the system by applying an industrial model to its structure and performance. Strangling the system financially and creating chaos and confusion with this strike will provide them with the opportunity to step in and make sweeping legislative changes. They will claim that the system is broken and must be fixed. These changes will be politically motivated and based on a conservative agenda recently seen in the USA and other western countries.

Further Fragment the System: Fragmenting the system with tiers of service will come first. Private or Charter Schools will be touted as the choice for academic students with smaller classes and fewer if any special needs students. Parents will be issued vouchers (links below) to supplement the cost for their child’s education at this level.

Focus on Jobs Training: Second, schools focused on job training. These schools will follow a recently published Blueprint for Re Engineering Our School System (link below) to create jobs for the BC Resource Industry.

Instruction would be provided by three levels of instructor: 1) Teachers, with the option of leaving their union 2) Educators, with minimal training, to do job training and essential math, reading and writing and 3) Support Staff to work with our students requiring special education services. This third group would include Resource Teachers, Counselors, Specialists and EAs (Educational Assistants and Para-professionals).

Charter Schools would be managed and governed by a School Council and a Management Team contracting our clerical, custodial and maintenance services to the lowest bidders. School Boards would become redundant, replaced through the further amalgamation of our current school districts. These new Super Districts would have a Board of Directors and a CEO. Their role would be to distribute limited funding and centralize services while seeking and implementing cost saving measures.

Now let me emphasize that this scenario is speculation on my part: evidence may be hard to find but I believe that there is enough empirical evidence (links below) to support that this is the intended direction of the current government. I feel dishearteningly confident that we should anticipate significant changes in the near future which will have a dramatic and detrimental impact on the school system as we know it. These changes will all be politically motivated and have little to do with improving teaching and learning: in fact the reverse will prove to be true…

Sources, Footnotes, and Additional Information:

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Thank you, Ken,  for connecting the dots and for sharing your thoughts, research and readings, and also your all too frightening predictions. Clearly, this is a call for collective responsibility, and along with other concerned citizens of BC, we must continue to take action to ensure the survival of our public schools…

                        …before it’s too late!

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_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Activist, Advocacy, advocate, Autism, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Educator, Public Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

MLA… MIA – What’s the Diff?!? #bced

The [neo]Liberal elected representatives of our Provincial Government are refusing to meet with constituents to discuss the current crisis in education in British Columbia.

Photo of sign in from of Liberal MLA's Constituency OfficeOne MLA posted this outside his office.

To be fair… he did so after children wielding… um… CHALK… wrote on the parking lot in front of his constituency office.

These same children played hopscotch and tic-tac-toe during the #MLAPlaydate.

So… ya..

It was pretty bad…

 

Here are a few more photos from that same #MLAplaydate…

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You can probably understand why an adjacent business (Re/Max Realty) called the RCMP… No. Really!

HoptoItMLAPLAYdate

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It is time for the government to drop E80 and either negotiate a fair deal or agree to binding arbitration.

Please sign and share this petition:
Solve the present crisis in #BCED and let our schools open by agreeing to arbitration. http://www.change.org/p/premier-christy-clark-and-government-of-british-columbia-we-the-people-of-british-columbia-urge-and-expect-that-you-solve-the-present-crisis-and-let-our-schools-open-by-agreeing-to-arbitration?recruiter=5114145&utm_campaign=twitter_link_action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

Also, there is a rally in support of public education and arbitration this coming Sunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery. You can find more info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/901258163235834/

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Christy Clark, Collective Responsibility, Educator, Parent, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Mr. Fassbender: Class Size, Composition, and Shame…

Dear Mr. Fassbender,

Yesterday I was invited to speak at a rally outside of your MLA office. I was quite excited to have to opportunity to speak with you, the Minister of Education, in person and thought long and hard about what I was to say.  However, I understand that you were not present in your office, which is sad really, because there were certainly many of your constituents that seemed eager to have your attention and your ear.  In hopes that you might be able to catch up, I am writing to you here as well. I apologize that it is lengthy but the complexities involved make a witty and pithy post less than adequate. Here is the gist of what I said:

On Tuesday I was supposed to begin my 28th year of teaching.

I am a special education teacher and I hold a Master’s degree in education.

I am also a writer, speaker, poet, doodler, singer, social justice activist, and probably most important… a mother.

And it is from a mother’s perspective that I want to take a closer look at class size and composition.

It seems these words are being spoken with increased frequency and are at the centre of many discussions regarding the labour dispute between BC teachers and the government, but I am not convinced that the importance of class size and composition are fully understood.

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Screenshot of “Fun Fact of the day” by BC Teacher, Alison Evans ♥

This is highlighted by the Ministry of Education’s implication or suggestion that class size and composition should somehow be considered a part of the teachers’ benefits package, which is absolutely ludicrous.

If the government is serious (and I suspect they are) their lack of understanding is truly horrifying.

However, the fact that they refuse to restore the class size and composition provisions that they illegally stripped from the teachers’ contract, is a disheartening indication that this is likely the case.

Either that… or they truly, TRULY do not care about students like my son, which I find even more disheartening.

As a society, we should be investing our resources in educating all of our kids and paying attention to class size and composition is a critical part of that.

Let me explain why – from a mother’s perspective.

My son, H, began Kindergarten in September 2004 and now, in 2014, he is ready to begin grade 10. He and his peers are a generation of students who have never had the benefit of class size and composition assurances, and I can tell you with certainty, that this has had a negative impact upon their education.

You see, I am a parent of a wonderful 15-year-old son who is Autistic and needs support and accommodations at school: he thinks differently and he learns differently. But though his school put forth their best effort to support him, by the time he was in the intermediate grades, my son was spending a considerable amount of time in the hallway, usually hiding behind his coat.

And let me be clear here, although I am a mother of a son whose needs were not met in the mainstream public education setting, I am not vilifying the school or the teachers or the excellent support staff that worked to support my child. The reality is that the school, as a system, lacked the capacity and resources to give my kid what he needed.

I do, however, blame the government for underfunding the system and for tearing up the contract that guaranteed smaller class sizes with a class composition that made it possible to effectively support a student like my son.

It seems grossly unfair to me that my child was in the hallway because, given the class size and needs of the rest of the students, this seemed to be the most practical way to cope with his learning differences.

He was anxious – so he was permitted a break. The difficulty with this response was that it did nothing to resolve the situation that caused his anxiety in the first place. He was anxious because the schedule for additional support frequently did not coincide with his needs.

I suppose it might be considered some kind of a behaviour problem that my son was so inconsiderate as to need support and accommodation when there was no one available to assist him.

Yes… I’ll admit this is sarcasm, but it holds truth at its core, because the reality is that students like my son, who are not being effectively supported, are too frequently seen as a behaviour problem.

Our children’s development is impeded when they cannot trust that the help they need will be there when they need it, and when their challenges are interpreted as misbehaviour the system is causing harm.

I want my child to be in a public school where there is the time and space and resources and capacity to meet him where he is, not where he is seen as someone who must be dealt with or handled or managed. That is not the language of education. That is not the language of relationship, nor is it the language of respect and acceptance.

Rather – it is the language of compliance: the language we might use when we are overtaxed and stressed, or when teaching a class is like trying to keep ants in a paper bag.

In my experience – an anxious child should be pulled in closer to the teacher and given  encouragement and support to successfully work through the situation. This builds the child’s confidence and gives the message, I believe in you.

Instead – my child was in the hallway – hiding under his coat.

Alone

You see, the experience of being Autistic affects my son… it affects him deeply. But more than this – my response to him affects him. The responses, attitudes, and judgments of other students affect him, as do the responses of teachers, relatives, family friends, neighbours, and the attitudes and judgments of strangers…

…and the responses of government!

I worry about the way that he was at times punished at school for his ‘lack of social understanding’ and was given the message (even if perhaps it was only implied in the reaction of others) that he was bad. I worry about the lingering effects of that message on his development of a sense of self and that he may feel that he lacks worth – or that he is not good enough. I worry about the shame my child might feel, and I find myself observing him closely to try to measure and determine the depth of its effect.

I  also worry about the messages of the media proclaiming that autism is a curse, a burden, an epidemic, or a tragedy – and that my child hears and processes messages like these. I have to work hard to undermine the effects of this and loosen shame’s hold. And sometimes I worry we do not have enough time – enough awareness – enough insight and understanding to mitigate the potential damage.

The thing is, however… the most IMPORTANT thing… is that I do not want him to feel shame! I do not want him to feel that he is less because he processes and responds to the world differently than non Autistic people.

So picture my kid – under his coat – in the hall – not near the teacher – and not in the class – and then imagine the thoughts of those passing by in the hall when they see him there… for the umpteenth time.

Imagine the judgment…

What I am saying is that in addition to supporting the development of students with strategies and resources to navigate their way, our goal must also be to adapt the environment to make it a better match, and remove potential barriers.

Sometimes this means changing our language, increasing response time, meeting sensory needs, supporting alternative forms of expression and communication, ensuring and protecting the space/pace/place to recharge, and a myriad of other things to honour the developmental strengths and stretches of our children.

We can know this in theory – we can give teachers all the training – we can understand the language and believe in the pedagogy – but without the resources and capacity in the school system – the assurances of the class size and composition – all the best practice ideas and the best intentions are simply not enough.

I would love for the Premier or the Minister of Education to explain to me why a child like mine is unable to get the services he needs to support him at his neighbourhood school, because I have to tell you – we certainly kept up our end of the deal!

Explain to me how a child with a disability that makes it challenging to navigate the social aspects of the playground is somehow expected to handle recess and lunch with an adult just watching him from afar at the same time as they are supervising two or three other children needing extra support?

Tell me why a child like mine who has language – but has processing challenges, and needs support with developing social communication, is unable to get speech and language support at his neighbourhood school?

Explain to all of us why some children have such limited support that they are only able to attend school for a couple of hours each day.

Explain why my child spent hour upon hour sitting in the hallway – unable to work at school as he was so stressed?

I’d love to hear your take on the reason why a happy, sweet, and delightful boy on the Autism spectrum wound up feeling so badly about himself that we had to enlist the help of a child play therapist, and finally enroll him in a public distributed learning program to rescue him.

The experiences of my son are representative of shortcomings that are systemic: our system is in poverty and schools are taxed with trying to service the intense and multiple needs of students with a myriad of challenges.

So… the government wants teachers to consider students??

Well… when teachers stand up for class size and composition that is exactly what they are doing!

They are considering my child, and other children with special education needs. They are considering every child who is enrolled in the public education system, and those who are working to support them in their schools!

Our students are the future of British Columbia! The saddest thing is… this is their present!!

Christy Clark says Children and families first!

I don’t believe her.

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Here is a link to video  from the rally – Thanks to Langely Teacher‘s Association:  http://bcteacherinfo.blogspot.ca/2014/09/blog-post.html?spref=tw

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in ableism, acceptance, Autism, autism stigma, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Behaviour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Appreciation on the First Day of School: #Iwillholdtheline

P1060434So the first day of school in BC this year – a time that is usually exciting and feels full of possibility – is little different from most…

Picketing is not the most promising start to the school year… but I am heartened by the support in our community and across the province.

Thank you to the parents who organized an #MLAplaydate at our Liberal MLA’s constituency office today. I was proud to join you with H and Craig this morning.

Thank you to the CUPE members who are with us in solidarity on the lines.

Thank you to the families of my students, past and current, who continue to be so encouraging and who demonstrate such faith and trust that teachers are advocating for their children.

Thank you to my colleagues for your commitment to the future of public education in our province.  I am proud to stand with you ♥

#Iwillholdtheline

MLAPLAYDATE.jpgAlso… ♥ please check this out: http://www.change.org/p/british-columbians-raise-the-higher-level-corporate-tax-by-1-to-fund-education?recruiter=8283114&utm_campaign=twitter_link&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

And this: https://www.change.org/p/peter-fassbender-end-this-strike-and-get-children-back-into-school?utm_campaign=friend_inviter_chat&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=permissions_dialog_false&share_id=XLBrkauAaH\

And this: https://www.change.org/p/bc-citizens-recall-premier-christy-clark?share_id=RpXHZyyAzF&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Advocacy, Autism, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Educator, Play, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Mr. Fassbender: All You Really Need to Know You Learned in Kindergarten

Note: This post is written in response to the BC Minster of Education, Peter Fassbender’s, CKNW radio interview regarding the labour dispute with the public school teachers of British Columbia (BCTF). Today I took part in a live-tweet response during his interview, and I am quite distressed at what I have heard.

I intend to use all of my skills of diplomacy to be as polite as I can be, but you will very likely notice that under the thin veneer of etiquette, my sarcasm and love of irony remain.

My sense of humour is strong – and it buoys me when times are difficult or I am feeling stressed. A good laugh is restorative – and in the work with which I choose to involve myself, I know too well the ongoing challenges of advocating for social justice and the importance of finding a way to resiliency.

I am patient and kind with people and I am a notorious avoider of conflict – but today Mr. Fassbender – you raised my ire.

There are many things you said with which I disagree – but I am going to speak to two in particular.

The first was your wondering whether students in need of special education services might be being overly diagnosed. You said,  “I have a question, I don’t have the answer but my question is – do we overcategorize children?”

As public education teacher in British Columbia, as a parent of an Autistic teen, and as someone advocating for human rights for those with disabilities, I am concerned that this statement has the potential to negatively impact students and may be interpreted in a way that is dangerously misleading.

Let me explain why.

The enormous challenges faced by our public schools with the government’s systematic underfunding has made it difficult to effectively provide special education services for those students requiring it. Additionally, there are students who are in need of these services who do not meet the Ministry of Education requirements for a special education category – because they are stuck in the backlog of those awaiting assessment. So in fact – the likelihood is that number of students who are diagnosed with a disability or who are in need of special education services is actually greater that the current number of students eligible to receive them.

Why would you imply that students may be being overcategorized or overdiagnosed?

I don’t understand, and I cannot help wondering if you are only capable of thinking about the bottom line and not about the human lives attached to those numbers?

Actually, Mr. Fassbender, don’t bother answering my query – that question was rhetorical, and I will answer it myself with a couple of possible scenarios and a bit of inference on my part.

It may be that you are actually unaware that there are students who wait years for assessment, and that schools are frequently in the position that they are only able to provide a psycho-educational diagnostic assessment for one or maybe two students per year for the entire school population.

It is conceivable that you may also be unaware that the current wait time for a student to be assessed at BCCH or Sunnyhill to find out if they might be on the Autism spectrum is 18 months, and that is after they have actually gotten the referral for this assessment. I have seen this take years for some students… and for some – it – never – happens.

Having navigated this strenuous and exhaustive process with my son, I can tell you that the implication that the students are being overdiagnosed or overly categorized is disrespectful to students, their families, and the schools who are struggling to support them, and further, it is just out right inaccurate.

Perhaps you might also consider how offensive it is to imply that students are being overdiagnosed or overly categorized, when we are dealing with a public school system that has been so chronically impoverished by underfunding and a lack of appropriate services to meet the diverse learning needs of students – of all of our students.

It disturbs me greatly that you apparently have so little understanding of these difficulties, particularly when it is considered in the light of the mandate of the Ministry of Education:

…the Ministry has the following responsibilities:
• setting educational standards based on the outcomes students need to achieve;
• monitoring student performance and reporting the results to the public;
• working with partner groups to improve student and school performance;
• allocating funds for the education system; and
• overseeing the governance of the system as a whole.
~

Okay – fine – let’s assume that I have cleared this up for you, and I’ll move on.

Oh… but first, I must take you aside for a moment to have an earnest discussion about the stigma and lack of understanding faced by so many of our students who actually are diagnosed with a disability of some kind, whether it is a learning disability, or a mental health condition, a diagnosis of Autism or… some other special education category.

The message for these students is far too often that they are an inconvenience and that they are somehow a burden or taxing the system. These kinds of messages may not be deliberate, but they are embedded deeply within a system that lacks support for students with diverse learning and support needs. When there is not enough to go around – it is easy to point a finger to blame this group or that group and their accompanying needs for needing more than is available.

But that is wrong, and that is not how a school system should be run.

Additionally, when a comment like you made might be interpreted in a way that implies that a student like my son, who is Autistic, might actually be part of a group that is overdiagnosed – you are adding a potential layer of judgment that could harm our students. Our neurodivergent students, those who sometimes are referred to as having invisible disabilities, are very frequently misunderstood by others. They are sometimes misjudged as being manipulative or presumed to be misbehaving because they may not process or respond to the world as does a typically developing student. The last thing they need is the Minister of Education sending out the message that their sensory issues, tics, stims, anxiety, depression, language processing issues, trauma-based history, etc… are not real.

These students need our acceptance – not further shame, blame, and a shroud of doubt cast about the legitimacy of their challenges.

Mr. Fassbender, you are the Minister of Education.

You are entrusted with ensuring the children of our province get fine education… and yet you spend your energy combating those who are trying to ensure that this happens.

It is like Henry Ford shooting buckshot at the workers in his factory assembly line – and still expecting they will turn out marvelous cars. It just doesn’t make sense.

So now I come to my second point (and I feel I must thank you for hanging in there, as I know this is lengthy).

Today – on the air – you made a comment that seemed dismissive of teachers not having hired agents to represent the BCTF at the bargaining table, and in particular of Jim Iker (President of the BCTF) related to his having being a Kindergarten teacher (**please see end note). To me your comment seemed to be insulting to teachers, and in particular Kindergarten teachers, who deserve respect as they set the scene for the beginning of the public education journey for our students.

Seriously, have you been to Kindergarten? I will assume you have, and if not, I am quite certain that your children and grandchildren have, and I am going to take you back… way back, because I think there are a few things you have forgotten.

So here it is – and I hope you will take it to heart – because I think you would be doing the families and students of our province a great service if you were to get back in touch with some of these important lessons.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

**A final note: “After receiving an honour’s degree in Political Science and Sociology at McMaster University, Jim enrolled at Dalhousie University in Halifax and completed his Bachelor of Education. He…chose a Grade 2/3 primary class in Topley, BC. Jim is a versatile teacher and taught kids in nearly every elementary grade—including Kindergarten. He also was a teacher/ counsellor, learning assistance, and special education teacher”. TEACHER magazine
 
SOS

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in ableism, acceptance, Autism, Autistic, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Educator, Neurodiversity, Special Education, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library: Interviewing Lei

Hand in hand with speaking out and taking a stand for social justice and human rights, there is an opportunity to explore and celebrate amazing things that are happening within Disabilities and Autism communities.  There are many people creating new projects and participating in posAutive events, and expressing or amplifying the important perspectives of Autistic people and celebrating Autistic pride and culture.

One of those people is Lei Wiley-Mydske. She is the creator, curator, and Director of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library.

leislibrary2.jpgYou read that right! Lei was not satisfied with the focus of the books that were available in her community, and she wanted to make books available that were supportive of neurodiversity and so she just freakin’ started her own library!!

You can probably tell I am pretty enthusiastic about Lei’s project, and I am lucky to live close enough to her that I was able to support her library fundraiser this spring, and hang out IRL now and then, but I am going to let Lei tell us more:

To begin, can you introduce yourself and share what is important to know about you?

I’m 38, I work for AWN (Autism Women’s Network) and I am married to someone who is not Autistic and we have one child who is Autistic like me.

Is there anything else that is important we know about you?

Well, I really like helping people, especially parents to understand a little more about autism. I feel like a lot of the time I might not be taken seriously, but I still keep doing it because I don’t think that things will be better for my son than they were for me if I don’t.

I don’t know anybody else who just MADE a LIBRARY! Do you remember the moment you decided to create the Library, and/or what inspired you or made you want to do so?

Well, it was a lot of things. Learning more about the laws in my state, and having my ability to parent my child questioned on the basis of my disability alone was traumatizing. It also made me want to change things so that my son would never, ever have to go through that.

My son also went through a lot of trauma in our school district because people just didn’t understand his communication. They called it non compliance when he was trying to advocate for himself. It was frustrating because I would tell teachers and administration about all of these resources like “Loud Hands” and “I Love Being My Own Autistic Self” that they had never heard of. I was actually horrified when one of the staff at his school said they had never met an Autistic adult before me. I just think if you want to work with Autistic people, you need to listen to us.

Very few people had even heard of Temple Grandin. I mean, she’s probably the most famous Autistic person around and they hadn’t even heard of her, much less all the activists who I learned about Disability and Autism and ableism from when my son and I were first diagnosed.

I was always letting teachers borrow the books I had anyway. I started to think that it might be a good idea to have a big collection of these types of books for anyone to borrow.

LeisLibrary1.jpgWe have an autism lending library in my state, but it did not have the types of books on Disability Rights and Neurodiversity that I thought were needed. Most of the books they have were written by parents or professionals. They were not written by the actual experts on the Autistic experience. There was nothing about the importance of learning about Disability History. There were books for siblings and peers of Autistic kids, but nothing to help Autistic kids find a sense of pride in their identity.

Is there special significance to the library’s name?

I named it after my dad. I just had a really good relationship with my dad growing up. Leislibrary3.jpgMost adults didn’t like me or thought I was a pain. He always thought I was awesome just as I was. My dad also was physically Disabled and I feel like if he was not Autistic, he definitely had some very strong Autistic traits. My dad died in 2002. It’s very hard for me to talk about still, but we (my sisters and I) grew up with both of our parents doing things like managing a food pantry and monthly free meals in the very economically depressed area where we lived. My parents both knew that things could be better and they felt responsible to be a part of making that happen and I think that was passed on to me. So, that’s why I named the library after my dad.

Would you explain a bit about the logistics of how you run the Library and when/where it is open, etc?

I am set up at my local community center from 11-3 every other Wednesday. I sometimes make appointments if people are unable to come to the library, and they can call or e-mail me and we make alternative arrangements… so that they can still borrow materials.

Can you share some of the feedback/response you are getting from others in your community, and beyond?

Well, since the library is new, I am still working on getting the word out locally. I have had some good response from a lot of parents though. Even some from other Autistic adults who are just wanting to learn more about neurodiversity.

There has also been a lot of great response from outside of my community. People have e-mailed me from as far away as Australia to ask me how to set up their own library. To me, that is so exciting because I think it would be great to see an autism acceptance library in every town!

Neurodiversity is a term or concept that is being used more and more frequently and sometimes seems misconstrued. How would you define Neurodiversity?

I like to use Nick Walker’s definition “Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and human minds.”

What are your next goals for the library and how can others help if they wish to do so? Pssst… Lei, this is an invitation for a shameless plug!

Haha. Well, I want to get more books and films. I’d love to be able to host events and guest speakers for the community.

Anyone who wants to contribute can go to our gofundme site: http://www.gofundme.com/edwileyautismacceptance

You can contact me at edwileyautismacceptance@gmail.com to send a check or money order to The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library

Or you can also go to my Amazon wishlist (and I recommend that you use amazon smile and choose Autism Women’s Network as your charity if you DO want to send materials to us from the wish list): http://amzn.com/w/1VS8J88S5ZQWH

Is there anything else you’d like to add??

Maybe I can also say that I couldn’t do this by myself. Like, my friend Jeff helped me to set up the bank account, get an EIN number, register as a non profit and do all that paperwork. Neil is my driver and delivery guy because I can’t drive. He also has done so much work in helping me when I get stressed out or can’t do something. Fallon helps me write book reviews (though we are on summer hiatus from that haha). My friend Irene helps a lot too. She is always promoting the library. My friends Robby and Gavin helped raise a lot of money by putting on that benefit show. Oh, and both Neil and Anabelle Listic helped me with graphics for the library. I want people to know that because I do need a lot of help to get things done and I couldn’t do it alone.

Interdependence!

Thank you, Lei ♥

In addition to creating and running the Library and working as the Community Outreach Coordinator for AWN, Lei is also a moderator of the Facebook pages for Boycott Autism Speaks and Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance (PACLA), writes a blog at We Always Liked Picasso Anyway, and was the co creator/editor of PACLA’s first magazine in April of this year. Lei is active in the online Autistic and Disabilities communities, and some would call her an social justice and civil rights activist. She is AWESOME!

Leiatthefundraiser.jpg_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in acceptance, Autism, Autistic, Father, Neurodiversity | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments