Yesterday I partnered with my good friend, Max Barrows, to present to education students at the University of Vermont. Max is the Outreach Coordinator for Green Mountain Self-Advocates. Together, we shared our frustrations on being misjudged based on our disability. More importantly, we used our success to illustrate how self-advocacy is mighty important to make our lives purposeful. My life is one dedicated to teaching others. Presuming competence and communication is key. My advice to education students is take time to listen and above all presume competence. The class we presented to shared personal stories of family members that have felt the pain of being misjudged. Together we can break down the walls that continue to exist in the minds of those who have misjudged people in the disability community.
This past week Tracy shared his story at a Public Budget Forum that was aired on Vermont Interactive Television. Jeb Spaulding (Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Administration) was part of the panel to answer questions that were presented. Tracy’s opening remarks are as follows: “I would like to tell you my story of success is due to the supports I receive through Washington County Mental Health. I have prepared a statement to illustrate how important Developmental Services are. Our People’s Budget is mine too.” (Tracy’s statement is attached.)
Tracy also presented at the Washington County Mental Health annual Legislative Breakfast. Tracy asked the following question: “”I am Tracy Thresher from Barre. I have priorities for my life. Quietly ignoring my communication needs is not the way to make my life one of purpose and contribution. I would like to know the plan for determining if our needs for employment are being kept high priority? My work gives me purpose. This is my contribution to my state.” (Tracy gave his statement as a printed handout to the legislators. Same as attached document that he shared at the Budget Forum.)
What are steps to take in supporting a student with limited communication to develop their skills through typing?
You ask an excellent question. Please understand anxiety and a lack of confidence can be major obstacles along with movement difficulties. This makes it hard and scary to make the leap. Bridge builders like Harvey and Pascal are utterly important. You must see the possibility in the person. If Larry can type your student certainly can.
On his development of literacy skills and the relationship with his speech
I understand everything I read and what is said but my auditory processing can go haywire and it can look like I don’t understand what’s said. Also my speech is highly unreliable and makes me look stupid. Autistic people are usually wired for literacy so please think that kids can read and expose them to reading like any kids.
Ideas on how to help a young boy with overcoming his sensory challenges and moving towards communication
I really can’t say why. It is the way he is wired up neurologically and needs a lot of sensory feedback to deal with it so he should work with a good OT and get regulated, then work on communication to tell you his needs, feelings, and thoughts.
My fan Ling sent the following email to me and Larry. I received her permission to post it. Her sharing of her own communication challenges insightfully hits the nail on the head. I hope my fans gather your stories of hope together for our “More like you than not” movement. Larry hammered out his “more like you than not” message with his astounding literary power punches. I hope to continue sharing the mission of inclusion with my Communication Alliance and Green Mountain Self-Advocates. Our plan is coming together to join forces to bring a learning collaborative into our local Vermont schools. The ladder to inclusion is conquered by working together in unity.
Thank you so much for your advocacy work, the film and sharing your lives with me. I am a jabberer and I was able to relate to you in my own way having moved from NYC to Brazil, and learning Portuguese for the first time. I had moments when I languished in my inability to communicate, my thoughts backing up inside me with no way out. I stuck out, people acted differently with me and spoke to me like I was dumb. I even had some people react violently to me because I had a hard time communicating. In my own experiences I could find ways to relate to yours and those of the other autistics featured in the film.
I really did want to say thank you for opening up my eyes to your lives and I appreciate the new things I learned. I think your advocacy and lectures are so valuable to regular non-academic people like myself. I believe we are more similar than not. I feel kids would really benefit from your work, since they are the next generation of policy makers and they will shape the future perceptions of autism. I’m sure many teenage school kids can relate to your experiences. Most teenagers especially have moments where they feel misunderstood, ostracized, and in general “different”. Hopefully they can see their autistic peers differently and also advocate for inclusion. When I was in high school I had a chemistry teacher who had turrets syndrome. His hands would twitch, he would bite them, and occasionally he would yelp. He was never treated differently and all the kids saw him as a teacher first, who also happened to have Tourette’s. I think we jabberers have the capacity to improve our perceptions and behaviors so don’t give up on us.
Thank you and good luck with your advocacy!
It has been too long with no blog my fans. I have been mentoring fiercely-interested students really intent on inclusion. The Browns River School in Jericho, Vermont is the latest in our outreach to work on inclusion and the students in Jericho truly are mentors. This is my eye opener typing on a dreary morning: “Good morning Jericho. How are you on this rainy wet day? Opening up your minds to competence is the work for today so sit back, fasten your seat belt and get ready for a wild Tracy and Larry ride.”
That intelligent typing teen would like to be working in self-advocacy. Thad may not realize he is on the right path to fulfill his dream. Autumn typed that her goal is to type more independently. Having expressive typing to write goals is your first step; keep plugging along.
It was great to see long-time friend Gigi who is guru to Thad. My typed responses to Thad and Autumn follow:
Thad asked about having me as a mentor. I typed “You betcha Thad. I now mentor students and would be happy to work with you.”
Autumn asked about how she could become more independent in her typing. I typed “Harvey can show you Autumn. With patience and hard work and lots of practice you can do it.”
I think the students in Jericho, Vermont rock the inclusion movement. They understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Thad and Autumn have much to teach, so tune in Jericho.
The big typing of my friends, Kris and Scott, is a compelling argument for inclusion for all people. I met a young film maker, Adrian Esposito at a self- advocacy conference in Albany, NY last fall. Adrian made a film “We Can Shine-From Institutions to Independence.” Jeanette and I connected with Adrian and his Mom. My friends and I recently gathered to watch this history of moving to community life. Dayna and Jeanette looked nervously at each other like it was too much for my young typing pals and me to watch. I think it is important to see the horror Larry may know from the scars he bears. My heart is torn knowing my friend lived without communication. Larry is now a beaming beacon of light in his community. History is our lesson to cease isolation and open the door to inclusion.
Following are the voices of my typing buddies:
Kris: “The movie was heartbreaking at times for me, but important to see the contrast. Institutional life doesn’t allow personable characteristics to show. Working outside of the institution, in the community builds a person’s quality of life, allowing relationships to be built and equality to manifest.”
“I really had a great sense of relief that I was raised in a family with love and a mother who is my rock. I am graciously pleased that quality of life is a big part of our supports. I love that we can have a voice and know others are listening.”
Kris, Scott and I rock the self-advocacy movement as members of the Washington County Communication Alliance. Our mission statement is: “The Communication Alliance is a group of self-advocates who have communication challenges and type to express ourselves. We advocate for an individual’s right to communicate, for Quality of Life initiatives and for increased public awareness and education.” We are also members of Green Mountain Self-Advocates (GMSA). Let’s come together to rock the Inclusion Movement. The time is now my fans and allies.
The main thing that diminishes my quality of life is the way some people think I need to have things in routines. Let’s say meals for example, I think people get stuck in their support like serving me the same old meal. I need to have lots of variety in my life just like the food choices need to be varied. Got inclusion? That applies to diversity in communities making room to move our plane of intelligence from plateaus to pinnacles of sharper intelligence.
It is because of inclusive environments that wretches like me have communication. The tipping point has come with people like me demanding proper support to be heard.
Let’s be positive in our leading the inclusion movement as the great leader Dr. King did in his day.
We also have dreams, more like yours than not.
This has been a year of great progress for my work toward fading typing support. My biggest accomplishment is the changing of attitudes. At our last Green Mountain Self-Advocates meeting we went around the table to share our biggest joy or work accomplishment. Some gushed over their crop of sweet potatoes. I typed what is in my mind my own sweet garden of the flowering perennials of future seeds of change. Happy New Year to my friends and fans. I hope to continue cultivating inclusive attitudes. Join me on my mission to spread seed pods to blow out upon the fields of change.
It was great times meeting up with old friends and meeting new ones in Long Beach, California at this year’s TASH conference with Master Trainers Harvey, Pascal, Marilyn, Darlene, Christi and Syracuse lovely grad students. We did a 4 hour training on communication, movement, research and message passing. I was able to type a word that Pascal was naïve to and message pass in front of a group of strangers…very cool. Our friend Sue Rubin and I took our history from early experiences and educated on the transforming power of communication. The World of autism opened up to possibilities only because we have a profoundly amazing way of thinking and the calm support we need to express our intelligent lessons of a life that is quirky but every bit as important as any other.
The sun took a rest behind the clouds. So what if sun wants to sleep; Larry and Tracy’s wit brought sunny smiles to the sun seekers. The Autism Society Inland Empire Communication Conference at the University of Redlands was a beautiful way to top off our sundae which California slim ladies likely request only at fat conscious yogurt shops. This Green Mountain Man prefers loaded with chunky hunks of yum from Vermont’s Ben & Jerry’s. Larry and I felt like Hollywood actors. Yogurt and ice cream do appear an odd combination but Larry and I felt the power of what our movie has done to open our world and that is a beautiful world of Inclusion. Thirty years ago the beautiful teens looked at me with passing glances of dismissiveness. Now all my charm is shining through to show the inner beauty of my wisdom and kind spirit. Tracy and Larry should make a new flavor for our fans to enjoy on a visit to Ben & Jerry’s. I am looking for fan ideas. Let’s hear it.
Over the past month my mind has been extremely focused on the power of inclusion. Inclusion is not mainstreaming. More than idealistic politically correctness it is celebrating our interconnectedness. Lessons of humanity lift our social fabric to magical tapestries where natural abilities may soar. Like Larry and I have communicated to diverse audiences in our travels, we are first men with intelligence. Like Larry says: “More like you than not.” Judge us not by our diagnosis. One of the best questions Larry and I were asked at the Chittenden South in-service in November was “What do you tell parents of kids with disabilities who oppose inclusion?” My response: “What kind of life are we talking about with seclusion and sameness and focused on disability? With that Larry had at Brandon and how did that work? Now that we are here, it’s due to being included. What hope is there without seeing us in the mix?”
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About Henry: Henry is an Autistic self-advocate who communicates using AAC (augmentative and alternative communication). He was denied the right to attend his neighborhood school. Henry is steadfast in his determination that all students must be presumed competent and have equal access to education with appropriate supports in their communities. Thousands of friends and advocates have written to show support for the rights of Henry, and others like him. Below is Tracy’s proclamation.
“I stand with Henry in his demand to see the intelligent mind within. I met Henry in my quest to change the World’s view of disability to recognizing that there is intelligence in all people, if only the Presumption of Competence is the paramount pulse coursing through the veins of educators. I stand with Henry because in Henry I see true grit. Henry is an amazingly resilient young activist. In my mind he is a leader taking down old barriers of discrimination, shifting our culture to one of seeing and believing in ability, rather than judging based on unreliable assessments. I stand on the platform of the typing train with you my pal.”