Editor's Note: As part of a dialogue about autism and our community during Autism Awareness Month, we are sharing Educator Lisa Friedman's blog about autism advocacy, acceptance and recovery. It was originally featured on Think Inclusive. Please share your comments below.
In January, I wrote a blog about a poet and self-advocate named Scott Lentine, who has autism. I continue to be impressed by self-advocates who use the power of their words to inspire others to greater levels of understanding. As a blogger, I can relate. I write to inspire, motivate and support others on the journey toward inclusion.
In learning about him, however, I began to grapple with the question of whether there's a tension between the concepts of autism acceptance and autism recovery, and now I'd like to share that question with the New Normal community.
Here is one of Scott’s most recent poems:
Acceptance of Autism
Wanting to be free
Wanting to be me
Trying to make people see
And accept the real me
Some people think my voice is too loud
And that my mannerisms strike them as being odd
This perception of me by others keeps me feeling blue
But there are plenty of struggles in life that I must get through
I am determined to show my critics my true personality
Hoping that people move away from their narrow-minded mentalities
I want them to know that I am a bright young man
Who is willing to take on as many challenges in life as I can
I want to make new friends and create a new start
Like to develop new relationships with an open heart
I hope to be accepted for the person that I am
So people can understand a true autistic man
Scott’s poetry is gaining recognition. Recently, he was interviewed by Autism Live, a web-based show providing support, resources and entertainment to parents and professionals working with people, like Scott, on the autism spectrum.
Yet on the site's “About” page, the first two lines of show host Shannon Penrod’s bio reads: “Shannon Penrod is the proud mother of a nine-year old who is recovering from Autism. Her son Jem was diagnosed at the age of two and a half after having lost virtually all of his language and social skills.”
Does this raise an uncomfortable flag for anyone? It does for me. My advocacy does not stem from a place of “curing” or “eliminating” one’s disability; rather, I recognize that each of us is unique and special, with gifts to be shared and challenges to overcome. So this left me feeling more than a little unsettled.
I do not in any way seek to diminish the value of this web show or Scott’s experience. I continue to be impressed by his writing and I am so pleased that he has gained the recognition of this program.
But let’s have the conversation. Can autism acceptance and autism recovery coexist?
Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. She oversees an extensive special needs program within the religious school, with programs designed to help students learn about their Jewish heritage, feel connected to their Jewish community and successfully learn Hebrew. Additionally, Lisa facilitates conversations about inclusion throughout the synagogue as whole and helps the congregation to shape its best practices. Lisa writes a blog about her experiences in Jewish special education: http://jewishspecialneeds.blogspot.com/