It has been a while since my last installment of Educating Teddy. It is my plan, or at least my hope, that upon the conclusion of retelling the story of my son’s childhood I will then begin the story of where Ted is now.
At first I thought it was for you, the reader, that I told the backstory. I thought I could share with you the lessons learned during his educational experience, and then examine the impact of his early years on where he is today.
But I have come to realize it is with selfish motivations that I take this approach, for it is me who has been helped in a way I had not foreseen. By reflecting on and writing our story, I have done the learning, and you, dear reader, have become not so much the recipient of my lessons, but a companion on this journey of discovery.
By opening up parts of me that have been sealed off for almost two decades, I break the isolation I once knew and embrace the community I now know.
Joining the blogging community is like being lifted off a deserted island and being placed into civilization.
And when I think of the isolation I have been released from, I think of a woman I had lunch with in 2005. My daughter Meg’s then art teacher was friends with Helen, a mother of an autistic son, and she wanted us to meet. Helen was 81 and her son Henry was 56. Helen had spent her entire mothering life in isolation.
For several hours I sat with and listened to this delightful woman tell me stories of what it was like raising a child with autism in the 1950′s. She did not have the option of sending Henry to school. Rather, her option, if you would even call it that, was to institutionalize him.
So she kept Henry at home and educated him herself. And he was still at home. Her husband had passed away almost a decade earlier and it was Henry and her.
There was no regret, no bitterness when she spoke and when the conversation turned from her son to mine she had only what I would call a voice marked with the flavor of curiosity. A natural curiosity about the opportunities being born four decades after Henry brought Ted.
“What has school been like for Ted?”
“What does he like to study?”
“What kind of work does he want to do?”
“Will he live independently?”
These were some of the questions she asked.
These were the questions she never got to ask for Henry.
I don’t know why life happens as it does. Why Henry, born in 1949 and severely challenged by autism had so few opportunities. Was it being born deep in Dixie during a time when prejudice dominated? If our community was reluctant to educate its black citizens I cannot imagine they embraced those with disabilities.
What I do know is the American with Disabilities Act and IDEA came too late to educate Henry, but it was there for Ted, and maybe for your child. And even when times were difficult for us, when we were stonewalled and told “we don’t do that” I knew we had a law to back us up. So when I finally found my voice, when I was finally strong enough to adamantly push back, I knew I could.
I knew my voice had to be heard as Helen’s never could.
When the day comes I can write to you, my community, about Ted making it out of our home and into his own, I will do so with Helen and Henry on my mind. For it is my desire to seek and celebrate independence not just for our child, but for everyone.
I end with a quote from Ted, written in his self-titled Freedom Manifesto…
Those who would defend their own freedom but fail to stand up for that of others fail to see that only in a society where all individual freedom is valued above all else are they free at all.