Updated: Mar 23
This Autism Acceptance Month, the Mission Society is featuring a series of conversations about how we can evolve our education system to work for all students. Today, Jodi Murphy is sharing her experience advocating for her son, and the turning point that helped him find success. You can follow more of Jodi and her son's work over at Dorktales Storytime Podcast, and on Instagram and Twitter.
Since my son was young, I’ve kept a binder with carefully tabbed sections chronicling his medical and developmental history. A cold, detached version of his life on the autism spectrum, the binder is necessary for the battles that I have to fight on his behalf. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve copied, synopsized, and sent off its contents in order to get the appropriate approvals, assistance, and interventions he needs to thrive.
But the binder isn’t our entire story.
When Jonathan was 2, I noticed that he wasn’t following the typical milestones of his peers. I would ask medical professionals if he was autistic, but their response was always a firm ‘no’, and I was told that I was overreacting. At the time, many young people like my son were falling through the cracks. Autism was profoundly misunderstood, treated like a burden, and often overlooked. Jonathan’s official diagnosis wouldn’t come until age 13.
As he grew up and attended school, we confronted similar roadblocks. He experienced sensory overwhelm while trying to focus, because he was more sensitive to sounds like scratching pencils and ticking clocks. I advocated for him to take tests at home, but in a traditional classroom setting – where even educators face struggles due to a lack of resources and time – it was difficult to implement creative solutions around his education. Taking tests at home was treated like an unfair advantage instead of a necessity for success.
Throughout all of this, I was watching my brilliant, curious son grow defeated and lonely. So I tossed the binder aside, and turned to our own ingenuity and instincts. At home, we fostered Jonathan’s interests, using them as a way to kickstart his learning and connect him socially. We were fortunate enough to find a new school that embraced and championed his unique style of engaging with the world, and innovated what it looked like to take a test or demonstrate knowledge on a subject. He discovered a love for theater and performance which still serves as the basis of lasting connections and a career that allows him to live independently.
The moment I encouraged my son to be who he is and learn in the way that excited him most, he began to thrive.
Now, I often look back on our journey and think about the other parents out there with their own binders, fighting to ensure that their children are seen. If I could reach them all, I would tell them that they are not alone in their doubt and fear for the well-being of their kids, but that they can trust their powerful intuitions. I would tell them to listen to their children first –support who they are and allow them to cultivate their own passions. Doing so will build their enthusiasm for learning and serve as the foundation for a flourishing life.
Lastly, I would tell them that their binder is not their entire story and never will be - their story is going to be far more rich and exciting than could ever fit on a page.