The picture with this blog is Austin and Malcolm after their mainstream end of the year play. Malcolm is directing Austin to look at Malcolm's dad so they can have their picture taken. We rarely catch a picture of Austin with a smile on his face even though we see it regularly. This picture leads into this blog and my thoughts and feelings with it.
On 6/5/11 I read a heart wrenching article on a parent telling a parent like me, how they had "pity for me" but how a child like mine did not belong in the mainstream classroom. This article touched me so much that I started writing a "thank you letter" to my child, Austin Primer's, mainstream friend's parents. It concluded with Ed reading the article and editing "our" letter.
Ed at first did not really want to edit the letter, it was the end of the day and he was like "please can I do it tomorrow?"
Then he read the same article, “Special needs kids are not contagious” by Jo Ashline and he responded, "why do we never meet "these" types of parents? Haven't they seen the poster?"
Ed has a long running joke that there needs to be a t-shirt or poster that says “Natures warning signs”, and the poster will show pictures of a Rattlesnake, a Cobra, a Puffer fish and Shannon Primer.
After reading Jo's article he was happy to help me for once not be one of "Nature's Warning signs" and to write a letter from our heart to the children and parents of Ms. Coulter's 2nd grade class at Hope Elementary School in Carlsbad, CA. Here is our letter...
Dear Ms. Coulter and the Parents and Children of her classroom,
As parents of a child with Autism, we are very blessed to live in a district that feels a child like mine, Austin Primer, is important. Evidence of this is in his being mainstreamed and being an important part of his community. Not every parent of a child with Autism, especially a non-verbal child with autism, gets to experience this.
Recently we read an article from The Orange County Register that reminded us how not every child like Austin is lucky enough to have classmates that realize that children with disabilities are important members of society or classmates’ parents that realize what affect that their child and they have on the special needs community. Parents and peers make a huge difference! Austin is fortunate to grow up in as an accepting community as ours (please see attached article).
We want to thank you for making that difference and for allowing your child to be an important part of our child’s learning environment. We cannot express to you how much this year has been an amazing experience and what an affect it has had on Austin, and in turn on every special needs child at Hope Elementary. From the bottom of our hearts, you and your children amaze us and here is why…
Our child with autism has worked on become a member of your child’s community over the past three years. This year it really struck us how amazing our mainstream children in this classroom are and how they have come to accept, appreciate, care and look out for our child who has “different needs and abilities”. Every time one of your children comes up to Austin and says “hello” at school or in the community, Austin’s face lights up. It reminds me why we continually work with CUSD and their amazing staff to push Austin and our Hope community for more. It amazes us how “our kids” never let us down.
It truly makes our hearts proud daily that; instead of me saying “my kid” (i.e. special needs kid) or your kid (mainstream kid), we can and do say “our kids”. We know that “our community” and “our school” are making this possible. Our District and our community will be better because of it and without each of your children and your support this would never be possible. After reading the attached article, it allowed us to have a clearer understanding of how different Austin’s program is and how different it is for most of his peers with Autism.
For all those who have invited us to a birthday party this year, thank you! We apologize that we did not attend. This year we have worked very hard on “mine and yours” goals and taking turns at home and school. Austin is just about at the point where he can do these things in social settings like a birthday party. Our goal is for Austin to attend these parties as invited during the next school year.
We hope that this letter truly expresses to you how much our family appreciates your families and how thankful we are for being part of the awesome supportive community that Ms. Coulter, her students, her student’s parents, Mr. Tubbs and the Carlsbad Unified School District are cultivating. We know not every family of a child with Autism is as fortunate as we. Also, we know Austin is truly blessed because he has been a part of Ms. Coulter’s class and that Austin was able to have your child as a classmate. Thank you for encouraging your child to look beyond Austin’s differences and for being part of an amazing mainstream team that has never said Austin did not “belong” in “their” classroom. You all have made this year the year that Austin is truly a part of a classroom and part of his community. Without you and Ms. Coulter, Austin would not be thriving. Every day you bless us by sharing your child with ours and you give Austin a better opportunity to be a future productive part of society. Your children who are our future politicians, future business owners, futures tax payers and future voters are already making a difference. They are already making our community well-rounded and as a result, will continue to grow into well-rounded adults who are concerned about and value people with disabilities.
Thanks to you and your children, the life of Austin Primer and his peers with autism looks a whole lot brighter. Thank you for helping Austin and his special needs classmates to a better tomorrow. Also, thank you for not making me the parent in the OC Register article; we are forever in your debt and we “can only hope that (we are) as contagious as humanly possible”.
Shannon and Ed Primer