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. Our President, Elsie McCabe Thompson, is kicking off our series by sharing her experience as a student and mother, and what she imagines for the future of our field.
When my child was diagnosed with autism, I became his fiercest advocate. Each day was about creating the environments in which he would find success, and building support systems that inherently valued his unique approach to life. My journey with him would often remind me of my time in school, when my ADHD and Dyslexia diagnoses made it challenging for me to adapt to traditional classroom environments. I would ask myself how I could learn from my past experience to better uplift my child. How did I find success navigating a world that wasn’t – and still isn’t – built to make learning accessible to all students?
The answer is that my life was transformed when I found people who whole-heartedly believed in me – who assured me my challenges in school didn’t mean a lack of ability, and that there were ways that I could thrive by being myself.
First, there was my mother, who pushed back when teachers told her I would never make it to a university. Then, the head of my middle school debate team, who saw my potential and argued for my acceptance into college. My freshman advisor showed me alternative ways to organize my classes that allowed me to successfully demonstrate my understanding of subjects. These were the people who laid the foundation for my journey - from high school, to college, to my eventual law school graduation, and beyond. They inspired me to do the same for my own kids as they approached their education.
We have an incredible responsibility as caregivers and educators to show young people that they are capable and that they matter. I would not have made it this far without the individuals who helped me carve out my own unique path. This has been my biggest motivator and inspiration for my work at the Mission Society. I am now in a position where I can see the amazing potential of the young people in our programs, and know what I need to do to ensure that they always have adults in their lives who acknowledge their abundant talent.
To truly achieve this, we have to allow neurodivergent students, as well as those with different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, to coexist in the classroom. I want all students to learn side-by-side, making discoveries, building lifelong relationships, developing vital skills, and problem solving together. This is how young people - and all of us - deepen our understanding of different ways of thinking. It teaches us how to embrace the various ways we approach the world, and gives us opportunities to grow and evolve.
I yearn for a day when there is a genuinely supportive education system that will take children as they are and uplift the beauty and wonder they each possess. I hope no young person has to face what I did in school ever again, or hide who they are because they do not believe they are enough. I am committed to being a part of creating this new future for all students.
Learn more about the Mission Society and our year-round work in schools by visiting our website. To read more from our series throughout Autism Acceptance Month, follow along on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.