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!

A BIGGER MOVEMENT

Niko in front of the White House

Niko in front of the White House

(Originally published by Disability Rights Oregon)

Sixteen-year old Niko Boskovic won first place in a prestigious essay contest, and was selected as a delegate to an annual educational program. 

But, the program sponsor, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, withdrew his prize after learning Niko experiences autism and uses a letter board to communicate.

Our attorneys worked with Niko and his family to protest his treatment. In the end, the national board reversed its decision and allowed Niko to participate in the trip.

By: Niko Boskovic

We flew out of Portland on a very early flight, which got us into Philadelphia late Saturday evening. That evening, we started to experience that East coast heat I had heard about, and it never let up until we got back to Portland.

Young People from Across the World

The trip was a bit of a whirlwind! It started off as a group of Oregon and Washington delegates, and eventually grew to over 150 youth from all over the world. There were people from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S.

It was interesting to see so many young people in one place with one purpose: to represent the values of the Odd Fellows on a national scale. Over the course of 11 days, we did so many things, from visiting historic sites to touring the United Nations’ main chambers.

As we learned about the history of the U.N.’s policies and actions throughout the world, I was struck by how many of its policies will affect the futures of so many countries.

Now I know that means I need to speak publicly about our struggles and our gifts; about our hopes and dreams for the future; about our intrinsic right to dignity and an independent future.

Speech Contest

My fellow delegates and I also participated in a speech contest.  We spent hours working on our speeches. Then, we presented them before a panel of judges.

I really liked the speech of the young woman from Washington who spoke so passionately about science. All of the finalists were remarkable because of their desire to make a difference in the world.

Niko in front of a U.N. banner about including people with disabilities in UN development goals.

Niko in front of a U.N. banner.

Historical Landmarks

The fact that we got to see so many landmarks was a bonus. Awesome sites like the view from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, or the New York City skyline as you approach it by bus.

I’ll always remember the way I felt when I was standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial with all those people, and yet that moment felt so private.

I remember the way the water from the World War II fountain felt so good on my feet on that hot, muggy afternoon, and how the chatter from the girls I was hanging out with tickled my ears. The entire trip was a sensory feast, and I couldn’t get enough.

After spending so much time with this group of young people, I walked away feeling like I was part of a bigger movement, one that will make a difference in the world.

A Bigger Movement

After spending so much time with this group of young people, I walked away feeling like I was part of a bigger movement, one that will make a difference in the world.

The thing is, I already knew I wanted to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. I just couldn’t picture what that would look like.

Now I know that means I need to speak publicly about our struggles and our gifts; about our hopes and dreams for the future; about our intrinsic right to dignity and an independent future.

I am so incredibly thankful to the Odd Fellows Lodge that selected me for this opportunity and to Disability Rights Oregon for its help.

TRIP ENDING

THE TRIP IS COMING TO A CLOSE. IT HAS BEEN A WHIRLWIND THAT HAS BEEN A MIX OF EMOTIONS: EXCITEMENT, ANTICIPATION, AND MAKING NEW FRIENDS. I AM ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL FOR THE PEOPLE WHO REACHED OUT AND TRIED TO TALK WITH ME. I KNOW IT TAKES TIME, AND KIDS MY AGE OPERATE AT WARP SPEED.

FOR THE TEENS WHO HAVE A DISABILITY, I WOULD STRONGLY ADVISE YOU TO APPLY FOR NEXT YEAR’S CONTEST. IT’S INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO BE HERE AND SHOW OTHERS THAT WE EXIST. DIFFERENT EXISTS IN EVERY ASPECT OF SOCIETY, AND WHEN ORGANIZATIONS SANITIZE WHO IS SHOWN, IT DOES NO ONE ANY FAVORS. I AM THANKFUL FOR THE TRIP AND EVERYTHING I’VE SEEN ALONG THE WAY.20121474_745117658993777_1972592196991605971_o

GOOD NEWS!

HEY EVERYONE,

I WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW THAT I AM DEFINITELY GOING ON THE UN TRIP NEXT MONTH! THERE WERE PEOPLE TALKING TO PEOPLE FOR A WHILE, AND IT FINALLY GOT WORKED OUT. I COULDN’T BE MORE EXCITED TO GET ON A PLANE!

I WANT TO THANK EVERYONE WHO SPOKE OUT FOR ONE AUTISTIC KID WHO HEARD THE WORD “NO” AND SAID, “WHY NOT?” ALSO TO GORDON AT DRO FOR BEING MY VOICE. TO MY PARENTS I AM ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL, AND UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS MY DESTINY. YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME WELL.

TO YOU, WHOM I LOVE

HOW I WOULD LIKE TO TELL YOU HOW I FEEL
BUT MY MOUTH DOESN’T WORK LIKE YOURS
THAT IS TO SAY, I COULD KISS YOU AND SHOW YOU THAT WAY
BUT IT WOULD BE FOOLISH TO THINK YOU FELT THE SAME.
I COULD MAKE YOU A CARD IF MY HANDS WOULD COOPERATE.

SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT YOU, AND I AM
FILLED WITH THE MOST BRILLIANT BLUE
THAT I CLOSE MY EYES TO LET IT LINGER.

WHAT I WANT TO ASK YOU, IF I HAD A VOICE
WOULD BE TO GO TO PROM WITH ME.
WOULD YOU DANCE WITH ME?
WOULD YOU LETTERBOARD WITH ME?
WOULD YOU HAVE TIME TO SPEND WITH ME?
YOU CAN DECIDE AND LET ME KNOW IN YOUR OWN WAY.

HOW NOT TO HAVE A BROKEN HEART FOR A CHANGE; WHAT EVERYONE HOPES FOR.