Our Journey with Autism

Thea Dirton

“I think my son has autism…” as the thought swam around in my head, I immediately wanted to reject it. However, as an educator I knew that early detection and action was the key. After discussing the thought with my husband and mother and having my fears dismissed, I delayed the inevitable for months. Then an autistic characteristic that could not be denied presented itself. My 11 month old son already over-reacted to loud noises, started talking extremely early (six months), and liked repetitive actions-such as flipping the light switch of/on, all autistic characteristics that could be attributed to any 11 month old. However, when he went mute shortly before his 1st birthday, my fears were realized.

Against the advice of several people, I consulted with a friend who was a speech therapist, she referred me to an agency that specialized in early intervention. This agency was the saving grace for my son. Because I had the guts to go against my loved ones and fight for my son, he was able to get the support that he needed at an early stage in his growth and development. The agency provided my son with an early interventionist who came to our home once a week to work with my son and who collaborated with me to get the full support that we needed. He received in home speech therapy, occupational therapy, testing to receive the autism diagnosis, hearing and vision screening, glasses, and special education services in the school system at no cost to us.

My goal at the beginning of the process was to have my son enrolled into a regular education, K-5, classroom. I made this known to everyone whom my son and I came into contact with. I believed that because the autism was detected early and mainly affected his social-emotional skills that he could learn the skills that he needed in order to not become another bright African-American boy being undeserved by the special educational system. I also believed that my dedication to this goal, which included modeling speech, emotions, social interactions and allowing him opportunities to practice would provide the force and energy needed along with the energy of others involved, whom I made sure were supportive of this goal, to reach the goal.

Two weeks ago, at a meeting with 12 other people, it was announced that my son would enter K-4 in a regular education classroom. This was not a surprise to me because I have been in almost constant contact with my son’s teachers. I have had to email, call, decline, disagree with, check on and in, and other actions essential to reaching this goal. Though he will continue to have some special education services, he will be able to be challenged in a regular education classroom.

I write about our journey because of the tremendous amount of effort that I have had to put into reaching this goal. Being involved in your child’s education is the most important thing that you can do to help them be successful, I say this not only as a parent of a child with autism, but as teacher and parent in general. It is our job to speak up for our children, set goals for their academic success whatever it may be, lay the foundation for future success, and continue ensuring that progress is made. Accepting status quo or the opinion of another without discussing, checking progress, and offering support is a disservice to a child, a disservice which may set them back for life. Back for life.

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