Should I open a school just for people who use RPM?

“I have a dream to open a charter school [in Oregon] to teach RPM. I work with people with autism and feel that the special education doesn’t give them an adequate voice or mastery of language. What do you think?

Do you think a school is possible?”

THANK YOU FOR WRITING. YOU RAISE AN INTERESTING QUESTION. CHECKING MY BIAS AT THE DOOR, I WOULD UNEQUIVOCALLY STATE THAT SPECIAL EDUCATION LEAVES KIDS LIKE ME ON THE SIDELINES A MAJORITY OF THE TIME.

GOING TO SCHOOL AS A PERSON WHO CAN’T COMMUNICATE IS AWFUL. I WAS TREATED LIKE A STUPID PERSON, BUT NO NEEDLESS EFFORT WAS MADE TO HELP ME FIND MY VOICE. ONCE I HAD A WAY OF COMMUNICATING, HOWEVER, IT TOTALLY CHANGED, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I MADE FRIENDS.

I DON’T ADVOCATE FOR SPECIAL SCHOOLS OR SPECIAL PROGRAMS – INSTEAD, I BELIEVE PEOPLE BELONG TOGETHER WITH DIFFERENT HARDSHIPS AND ABILITIES, BACKGROUNDS AND RACES, ECONOMIC LEVELS AND GENDER IDENTITIES, SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS AND FAVORITE POLITICIANS.

I THINK THAT KIND OF SCHOOL IS POSSIBLE, BUT I DON’T THINK IT’S NECESSARY. I BELIEVE IT WOULD MAKE MORE SENSE TO REALIZE THAT VISION IN ONE’S NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL. I WOULD RATHER SPEND MY ENERGY TRYING TO CHANGE PERSPECTIVES OF SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS AND TEACHERS RATHER THAN REINVENT THE WHEEL.

I KNOW I AM VERY LUCKY TO BE ABLE TO ATTEND A PUBLIC SCHOOL – BUT MORE PEOPLE NEED TO CLAIM THEIR PLACE RATHER THAN LEAVE ALTOGETHER. BELIEVE ME, IT’S POSSIBLE FOR MORE PEOPLE LIKE ME TO BE IN GENERAL EDUCATION – WE JUST NEED A CHANCE TO TRY.

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HOW I CAME TO UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY

KIMG1460~2REMEMBERING THE PAST HAS NEVER BEEN A PROBLEM FOR ME. THERE ARE THINGS I WOULD RATHER NOT RELATE TO YOU, LIKE THE LONG HOURS WHERE I SPENT TIME WITH A SPEECH THERAPIST IN THE TINY ROOM. OR THE HOURS MY MOM SPENT DRIVING ME FROM ONE APPOINTMENT TO ANOTHER, TRYING TO FIND A WAY INTO MY WORLD. HOW SHE TRIED SO MANY GOOFY THINGS, YOU CAN’T IMAGINE! ALL THAT TIME WAS SPENT TRYING TO FIX ME WHEN I WASN’T BROKEN IN THE FIRST PLACE. BUT IT TOOK SOME TIME FOR MY PARENTS TO REALIZE THAT.

WHERE THEY GOT IT RIGHT WAS IN THEIR ATTITUDE ABOUT PLAY. PLAY WAS A WAY IN. PLAY LET ME BE MYSELF, AND I FELT ACCEPTED FOR WHO I WAS RATHER THAN FOR EVERYTHING I WAS NOT. GETTING THAT VALIDATION WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT FEELING I EXPERIENCED IN MY SHORT LIFE.

PLAY LET ME BE MYSELF, AND I FELT ACCEPTED FOR WHO I WAS RATHER THAN FOR EVERYTHING I WAS NOT.

HOW I PLAYED AS A CHILD WAS SO DIFFERENT FROM OTHER KIDS THAT NO MATTER HOW I TRIED, I JUST COULDN’T DO IT THE NORMAL WAY. TAKE, FOR EXAMPLE, SKATEBOARDS. THE ONLY THING I WOULD EVER WANT TO DO IS SPIN THE WHEELS AND WATCH THE PATTERNS THEY MADE ON THE AIR CURRENTS AROUND THEM. OR ANOTHER FAVORITE: MAGIC SAND. HOW I LOVED TO DRIZZLE IT IN FRONT OF MY EYES, AND WATCH THE INDIVIDUAL PIECES OF SAND FALLING AS A PART OF AN EVER-CHANGING MASS. REMARKABLE! GETTING THAT IN MY HAIR WAS A PLUS BECAUSE I GOT TO FEEL THAT GRITTINESS OF THE SAND ON MY SKIN. ALL I KNOW IS THAT I FELT SO GROUNDED AFTER I PLAYED WITH IT, AND AM SO GRATEFUL THAT MY PARENTS DIDN’T MAKE ME STOP.

LOOKING BACK, MY MEMORIES ARE DIVIDED INTO TWO PERIODS: BEFORE PLAY AND AFTER GETTING FREE OF THERAPY. AFTER GETTING LESS THERAPY, HAVING RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS FEELS MORE NATURAL. FRIENDS AREN’T USUALLY PAID TO HANG OUT WITH YOU, AFTER ALL. THEY AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE ADULTS TO WRITE NOTES ON A CLIPBOARD ON TRACK YOUR EYE CONTACT. ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO FIND A WAY TO CONNECT WITH OTHER KIDS AND NOT BE JUDGED.

LEARNING TO LETTERBOARD WAS ANOTHER WAY FOR ME TO GAIN A FOOTHOLD INTO A WORLD THAT WAS CONFUSING AND FOREIGN TO ME. FOR EXAMPLE, MY SENSORY SYSTEM IS PERCEPTIVE IN WAYS THAT HAVEN’T BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED BY EDUCATORS OR PROFESSIONALS THAT STUDY AUTISM. MANY BELIEVE THAT AUTISTICS CAN’T EMPATHIZE WITH OTHERS AND FUNCTION LIKE ROBOTS. THAT COULDN’T BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.

MY PROBLEM IS THAT I FEEL TOO MUCH. AUTISM HAS MADE IT SO THAT I CAN PICK UP ON SO MANY OTHER VIBRATIONS THAT NEUROTYPICALS DON’T EVEN REGISTER. FOR EXAMPLE, I USED TO GET TOTALLY OVERWHELMED BY ALL THE SOUNDS OF A CLASSROOM. WHEN I THINK BACK, I CAN RELATE TO THE IMAGE OF AN AUTISTIC KID HIDING IN THE CORNER AND LINING UP HIS TOY CARS, BECAUSE THAT WAS THE ONLY THING I COULD CONTROL. I COULDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT A CACOPHONY OF SENSORY INPUT I WAS GOING THROUGH, SO I CONTROLLED WHAT I COULD. ALL THOSE YEARS, I WAS TRYING TO KEEP IT TOGETHER AND MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL. EVENTUALLY, I WAS BETTER ABLE TO SORT THROUGH THE SOUNDS AROUND ME AND MAKE REALISTIC ADJUSTMENTS OF WHAT I NEEDED TO DO TO FUNCTION IN ANY GIVEN SITUATION. IN SCHOOL, I KNOW I WILL NEED REGULAR BREAKS TO CLEAR MY HEAD, AND SOME TIME TO LISTEN TO MUSIC. AT HOME, MY FAVORITE ACTIVITY TO RELAX IS CUTTING PAPER, AND MY FAMILY KNOWS TO LEAVE ME ALONE FOR AN HOUR AFTER SCHOOL SO I CAN HAVE SOME DOWN TIME.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITY RUNS THROUGH OUR VERY BEING, AND IS AS INTRINSIC TO HUMANS AS BREATHING.

NOW I’M ABLE TO SHARE MY THOUGHTS AND CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WITHOUT HAVING TO RELY ON MY MOM OR MY PARAEDUCATOR AT SCHOOL. ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO BELONG, AND NOW I DO. A SENSE OF COMMUNITY RUNS THROUGH OUR VERY BEING, AND IS AS INTRINSIC TO HUMANS AS BREATHING. IT IS A FORM OF LOVE THAT FEEDS OUR SOULS, AND BRINGS OUT THE VERY BEST IN US WHEN IT SEEMS LIKE THE WORLD IS GOING MAD. VERY LITTLE GOOD BEGINS IN CHAOS. IT IS WHEN WE COME TOGETHER AND LOVE EACH OTHER THAT GOODNESS PREVAILS.

TONIGHT, I WANT TO ASK EACH OF YOU TO APPEAL TO THE CHILD INSIDE YOU, AND BE A LITTLE PLAYFUL WITH EACH OTHER. LAUGH A LOT AND DROWN OUT THE RHETORIC THAT IS FLOODING THE NEWS. FIND WAYS TO PLAY MORE AND COMPLAIN LESS. BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF BEING SILLY AND FUNNY WHEN THE MOOD STRIKES, AND LETTING YOUR TEARS FLOW WHEN YOU ARE SAD. FIND COMFORT IN EACH OTHER AT THOSE TIMES LIKE A CHILD DOES WHEN THEY SCRAPE THEIR KNEE. ABOVE ALL, ACCEPT THAT WE ALL BELONG TOGETHER, WHETHER THAT’S ON THE BUS OR IN THE CLASSROOM OR ON THE PLAYGROUND.

PLEASE SUPPORT HARPER’S PLAYGROUND, AND HELP THEM CREATE MORE PLACES WHERE EVERYONE CAN PLAY TOGETHER!