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The teacher’s kid: It’s not what you think…

November 21, 2018

Originally featured in BCTF Magazine (Nov 2018 | Dec 2018 Issue) 
Author: Leah Kelley, Chilliwack teacher, Blogger (30 Days of Autism) and Doctoral Candidate

I had the opportunity this evening to have a discussion with a colleague, a teacher who is also the parent of a five-year-old autistic son.

As we talked, this teacher commented, “It is great that you are a teacher—I’ll bet you’ve been able to be a great advocate for your son within the school system. Our kids are fortunate.”

And I suppose this is true in many respects: my understanding of the system has supported us in navigating it in varying degrees and I recognize this is an advantage.

But that is not how I responded.

I might have caught him off-guard when I said, “No, my son has benefitted much more from me being a social justice activist. It is ACTIVISM that has made the difference. Our autistic, neurodivergent, and otherwise disabled children need us to show them how to be activists so that they can advocate for themselves.”

I hadn’t really considered it before but as I listened to my own words, I knew they held truth for me.

As educators and parents, we want to ensure our children with disabilities know, understand, and feel pride in who they are. When they know themselves deeply and with respect, it is then that they can reject the message that they must conform to be okay, accepted, valued, or to belong.

H turned 19 today and I look forward with excitement and pride at this fabulous autistic and otherwise neurodivergent young man, who now towers above me.

I cannot help but look back and see that raising my son to feel comfortable with who he is, and to understand that he can push back against injustice and discrimination and ableism is one of the most powerful things I have offered as a parent.

As H’s childhood recedes, I am a little surprised that I feel no sadness or melancholy as I think back upon this journey.

How can I feel melancholy when I observe this spectacular human’s sense of self that makes him comfortable in advocating for what he might need—or not need—or need in a different way. Along with this confidence, he has developed a sensitivity to extend his understanding beyond himself. He understands that he experiences both privilege and oppression and how his experience of being disabled intersects with the lives and stories of other people who face discrimination or exclusion or injustice. I see him pushing back against oppression—even when it is not about him. It is beautiful…