This post is co-authored by Camille Proctor. She is the executive director Color of Autism Foundation. @colorofautism thecolorofautism.org
Autism Speaks was founded in 2005 and while their campaigns have led to increased awareness we still have a long way go. We need consistent special education services with highly trained staff, community education for first responders, equal services and diagnostics in underserved communities, jobs and services for adults that are nonexistent in most areas. According to the most recent statistics from the CDC, the rates of autism went from 1 / 150 in 2000 to 1 /68 as of 2010. With growing numbers of children being diagnosed schools and families are already at a crisis point. My experience and that of two other Mom Advocates echo what is happening around the country.
I began my journey into advocacy one day when my son was in special education summer school. I got him off the bus; he was bleeding, his forehead was swollen, bruised and his eyes were swollen from crying. My heart sank, I felt sick, and I wanted to know what happened. The bus driver says she received him that way; I called the school only to get hung up by the acting principal for being hysterical. I was beyond furious and still had no clear idea of what had occurred. A million questions were running through my mind, did he do this to himself? Did the adults just let him hurt himself without intervening? Did an adult hurt him or another child? When I was able to talk to the school staff, I was told no one knew what happened. Next I called an advocate we had been working with she suggested I call the police and child protective services to start a formal investigation. The police arrived took pictures, asked me some questions and went on their way. The next day CPS came and did the same. When all was said and done, nothing happened because there was not enough evidence. Children with autism are "unreliable witnesses" my son could not say how he had been injured, and the school staff all claimed they saw nothing. I felt outraged if I let my child harm himself at home causing injuries that severe I would have my kids taken or put in jail, so why was it ok for it to happen at school?
I learned quickly incidents like what happened to my son and much worse were happening to children with special needs all over the country on buses, in schools, daycare centers, and by police. If you think I am an alarmist spend just five minutes reading the news reports at Cameras in Special Needs Classrooms. Tara Heidinger, who is the President and founder of Cameras in Special, Needs Classroom on how she began advocating for cameras.
"The reason I Founded CISNC was because my son Corey came home with finger mark bruises. Corey and another classmate said the teacher's aide, punched, grabbed and yanked his arm while screaming in his face "Stop crying now." He was crying because he forgot his money. The school said it never happened, that the kids made up the story, and bruises could have come from anywhere. No cameras to back up the children's story. Not enough evidence and my son was semi- verbal at the time. Safety and protection should be our priority. When Children with special needs are coming home with unexplained marks, bruises and welts something is wrong. Many schools still use restraint and seclusion to control behavior. Many of these children are nonverbal and cannot go home and tell how their day was. Recent news reports include stories, where special needs children have been injured, neglected, abused, raped and killed. Cameras will give that extra safety and protection for the children and staff. These children deserve to have a voice in school. We want them in all classrooms and will not stop until it happens." ~Tara Heidinger CISNC
When it comes to the disparities within underserved communities and the realities faced by children of color Camille Proctor Executive Director, of The Color of Autism Foundation, has experienced the impact firsthand personally and through her foundations work.
"In 2008, my son was diagnosed with Autism at age 2. The isolation, distress, and desperation lead me to seek out support groups. Unfortunately for me I couldn't find any support groups that understood the journey "My Family" would undergo. I remember attending a meeting and asking, "What if my son never knows how to yield?" As African Americans, we teach our sons how to yield for the police. The reply was that "the police would understand " Then I had to point out to them that African American children are often viewed as older than they are, and black males are almost always deemed menacing. The room went to dead silence! I knew at that point that while my son's reality would mirror so many, he'd never be offered the kindness or excuse of his disability when it comes to law enforcement. Why? A non-responsive white child would automatically be deemed as someone with a disability vs. defiant. There's a huge disparity in the way persons in underserved communities are perceived and when you add a disability into the mix it could end in tragedy."
"So, when I think of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray...I think of my son Ari. But when I think of Ari I can't help but think of the thousands of others on the Autism Spectrum, who are at risk. Many undiagnosed and misdiagnosed African Americans end up in the criminal justice system each year. We have to end this disparity, and we have to ensure that underserved families get the support they need. Encouraging parents to seek out a diagnosis and helping them overcome the stigma associated with ASD. Many parents see an Autism diagnosis as a label and reject all treatment recommendations. Not realizing that they are setting their children up for other more devastating labels: Inmate 123-45-6789, Victim #7, or fatality #5."
"It's important that all embrace Autism Awareness and that our police and other first responders are trained to handle persons on the Autism Spectrum. Most importantly it's important for these individuals to be treated fairly no matter what race or gender." ~ Camille Proctor, The Color of Autism Foundation
We are from different cities and have had different experiences while raising a child with autism. However, one thing is clear, something needs to change. From Facebook to Twitter, discussion boards to support groups' parents of children with special needs are calling for change. It is time we demand reform, parents and educators need to become allies and advocate for significant changes within special education.