World Autism Awareness Day … and Inclusive Quality Education for All
Karen Smyth, United Nations in Washington, D.C.
In 2020, I wrote a blog post reflecting on autism, COVID-19 and transitioning to adulthood in my house. On the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day 2022 (WAAD), I wanted to continue some personal reflections from one UN staff person’s — one parent’s – perspective. After all, every story is different. Have you heard the saying, “If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism”? Those in the autism community know it well.
After COVID ‘self-contained’ us all for too long, the world – for better or worse – has increasingly been opening up lately… just in time for the splendor of Spring. What else happens in Spring? Graduation season!
That’s right. My son, Scott, who some of you may recall as the Godzilla loving, school disliking (I can’t make myself use the h*t* word) autistic 19-year-old teen in my life, will be walking at graduation this May.
I say “walking” instead of graduating because he does not meet the general education criteria, such as participating in certain standardized testing, so he will not receive a diploma.
He will instead receive one of two “certificates” when he walks and the other after completing the On-Campus Transition Program (OCTP).
Starting this fall, he will spend the next two years taking college classes, chosen from a small selection of pre-determined electives like health, fitness, and art, at the local community college together with mainstream college students. (With art being his favorite hobby, he overlooked his dislike of school, opting out of the shorter, one-year internship option.) However, technically he will still be a high school student, and continue his annual Individualized Education Plans (IEP), because special education students are expected to stay in the public school system until they are 21 years old, at least where I live, in order to continue services after school.
Clear as mud, right? Welcome to my world!
Naturally, you can see why this year’s World Autism Awareness Day theme is again quite fitting for our family: Inclusive Quality Education for All. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4 – Quality Education – includes specific targets surrounding equal access to all levels of quality education and vocational training for persons with disabilities with the overall SDG promise to Leave No One Behind.
[Tune in on 8 April 2022 to learn more about SDG4 at the UN’s virtual event, “Inclusive Quality Education for All”]
In general, Scott’s special education experience has been strong and beneficial. It began at age 3 in an Infants and Toddlers Program (photo above) and will continue until after the on-campus transition program.
As strong as special education is in the U.S. and especially where I live, I still have some strong feelings about failures and lost opportunities in the system as it pertains to Scott’s educational experience. That said, there is one thing I would not have changed for anything in this world: the teachers and staff he was blessed to have throughout this journey. They worked with him, fought for him, and compensated where the system lagged. They went above and beyond in so many ways – even after Scott advanced grades – including taking personal time to go to see him perform as an extra in the Middle School’s performance of The Lion King: a gorilla part made just for him because it was the closest thing to his love for King Kong. Scott’s teachers will be forever in our hearts and in our lives. No blog or photo gives justice to the impact each and every one of them has had on Scott and our whole family.
Stay tuned for next year… there is already new ground to cover that I hope to share more with you on then. I wonder if next year’s theme will be as fitting these recent years’ themes have been.
April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), an international day designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to raise awareness about autism. International days — which predate the establishment of the United Nations but which have been embraced and expanded by the UN — are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. WAAD includes an explanation of how this spectrum disorder is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction.
Senior Liaison Assistant
UN Information Center