Annie Lehmannn is author of The Accidental Teacher: Life Lessons from My Silent Son. She wrote this essay in honor of Autism Awareness Month, April 2011.
Parents raising children with autism are on the front lines every day, navigating a sea of unique challenges, emotions and bureaucracies. Yet when it comes to autism education, the parental perspective tends to be overlooked. Parents have a great deal to contribute and getting professionals to appreciate this was one of the reasons I wrote The Accidental Teacher: Life Lessons from my Silent Son.
During the 20 plus years chronicled in this book we tried every intervention available. Still when our son Jonah reached adulthood, he remained severely impaired.
Over the years there was frustration and anger at his lack of progress. There were (Individualized Education Plan) IEPs where we sat across from the teachers and professionals who knew Jonah well and cared about him, but resented our questions and upset. As well trained as they were about how to teach children with autism, keep records and write an IEP, they never fully appreciated what we, as parents, faced on a 24/7 basis.
I look at our son today and am grateful for his situation. He lives a mile from our home in a supervised house he shares with two women his age who also have special needs. He attends a day program that strives to teach him independence. With the help of an aide, he delivers bottled water to homes and offices in the Oakland County area, earning small tips he uses for the food magazines he enjoys. I take comfort in knowing that we have helped craft a life that includes many of the things I want for my other children — love, safety, integrity, comfort and access to things he enjoys.
It is 27 years into this autism journey and I wish we had a better understanding of a disability that, according to Autism Speaks, affects 1 in every 110 children. There is still no known cause or scientifically proven cure for autism – but as a parent I will continue to push and pray for answers that are too long in coming.