"We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I begin and end this post with quotes about hope. It is hope that drives me. It is hope that brings life to every second of my day. With so much hardship around us these days, hope is in short supply. We need our friends and neighbors now more than ever.
Four years ago, my son was diagnosed with autism. Of course, this was devastating to my wife and me. I have a brother with autism and I had seen the constant struggle of my father and his wife to make sure my brother had consistent and appropriate help. I knew firsthand that the diagnosis of autism meant that raising my son would require a different, more demanding manner of care than that of his older, typical brother. But, when one of my son's doctors told me that she didn't believe he would be able to care for himself in the future and that we should make arrangements for his care, it was as if a gun went off in the examination room. BANG! She had just killed my hope. Murdered it in cold blood.
I walked to my car and sat for a while. I was close to tears and I knew my wife was crying in her car. A horrible thought came into my head. Why couldn't she have told me he had cancer? At least then we would have a fighting chance. I walked around in a hopeless cloud for a year or so.
After attending my first Autism Speaks Walk, I realized, in a single day, that there was a world of people that wanted to feel the same way that I wanted to feel. My hope had been restored. The walks made me a believer in the phrase; there is safety in numbers. This is when I began to get involved with the special needs education community.
As invigorating and empowering as those walk days are, unfortunately, in daily life, the special needs community is fractured. Race, class, disability and most of all, fatigue fracture us. All of this makes it difficult to come together and stand as one. At an organized walk, be it a Walk Now For Autism Speaks event, a Down Syndrome Buddy Walk event or any other disability that uses walks to foster support, we stand as one. The time has come for us to do this every day.
As everyone knows, our economy is in terrible shape. As a result, the special needs community has seen programs slashed or eradicated completely, making it increasingly more difficult for families to deal with the additional stress. In these trying times, it is imperative for us to come together as a group. While general education waits for their "Superman", we parents of children in special education have got to be our own.
Next time you are at a walk, look around you. There will probably be 5,000 to 20,000 people there. We are an important voice. We are a passionate, strong group. And I hope being together makes you feel the same way it makes me feel. When I am at a walk and I talk to people and take part in this energizing union of people with at least one common issue, I feel motivated. I feel power. Most of all, I feel hope.
It is up to us to take what we feel on those walk days and incorporate it into our daily lives. If we are truly going to change the world and make it a better place for our children, we have to do it together. We have to join groups and write to and demand representation from our elected officials, school superintendents and school boards. We have to know our rights and fight for what we are legally entitled to when we go into IEP meetings. We must find ways of being less intimidated by the process.
There are over 6 million children in Special Education programs in the United States. This is a very significant number. If you look at this number in terms of votes by factoring in parents and relatives that care about this child's education, it balloons to an extremely large number that, if unified, can't be ignored. We can send politicians a message that special education matters.
This can be our time -- a time where we all come together and stand for the rights of our children and our rights as parents of a child living with a disability. If we are alone we are without hope. Together, we can change the world and make hope live.
Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles. - Samuel Smiles
Follow Matthew Asner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/savespecialed