A Different Perspective on Autism Awareness Month

As April began, I was filled with anxiety, excitement, and eagerness to start and complete all the things I wanted to do. When April 2 came, I read a few blogs parents of children with autism posted. I have to say, a few stuck with me that I wanted to share, regardless of if you, as the reader, are a parent or professional, in the autism world. The one today may seem a bit harsh as you begin to read it, but I think by the end, you will see her perspective.

Kim Stagliano is raising three young ladies with autism spectrum disorders, between the ages of 15-21. She talks about the reality of autism that is mostly not mentioned in the feel-good stories that are reported most of the time that point to autism breakthroughs or special things individuals with autism can do. As the author of “All I can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa,” she talks about life raising her three daughters. I have this book and am looking forward to reading it cover to cover in the near future.

The best advice Kim gives in her article is to make a difference in someone’s life who has autism…whether that is inviting a child to a play date, birthday party, volunteering your time or energy to help at a local center that works with children with autism, or being a friend to a parent who has a child with autism…there are no little jobs in the autism field. Each and every one make a difference.

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism Book Summary

In January, I had the opportunity to go to a book signing at Millsaps College for In A Different Key: The Story of Autism. I met the authors of the book, John Donvan and Caren Zucker, but the highlight for me was meeting Donald Triplett from Forest, Mississippi. Donald was the first person in the world to receive an autism diagnosis. He was diagnosed by Leo Kanner at Johns Hopkins in 1942, becoming “Case 1” in Kanner’s research. Donald grew up in Forest, under the protection of his family and community. He is now 82 years old. When I met Donald at Millsaps College in Jackson, his brother and a number of his church members had made the trip for the book signing in support of Donald.

In A Different Key describes the life of Donald Triplett but it also does much more than that. It outlines a comprehensive history of autism as a diagnosis. All of the well known names in autism and their stories are there: Hans Asperger, Ovar Lovaas, Eric Schopler (founder of TEACCH), Temple Grandin, Lorna Wing, etc. The field of autism has a complex and divisive history. In A Different Key explains how these differences came about, from professionals to grassroots efforts by parents desperate for services for their children to theories about vaccines, causes of autism, and treatment successes and failures.

In 1942 and for a long time after, most children diagnosed with autism or childhood schizophrenia lived out their lives in institutions. Donald Triplett’s life was unique in that he was raised in the small town of Forest, Mississippi by well-connected parents and a community that came together to look out for him. His story is interesting for anyone touched by autism. I’m so excited that I got to meet Donald and get him to sign my copy of In A Different Key. While I was waiting to get my book signed, I heard someone say that they would get “Uncle Donald’s” autograph at church on Sunday back in Forest.

*This post has been written by a guest author, Lisa Gerard. Lisa Gerard has been a special education teacher at Madison Avenue Elementary in Madison, MS for the past nine years. During this time she has been awarded Madison Avenue Teacher of the Year (2011), Jackson Metro Area Teacher of the Year (2015) and the Arts Advocacy Award from the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education (2015) for her efforts at integrating the arts into the special education curriculum at Madison Avenue. Lisa is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Special Education with a focus in Autism. She has done contract work in the past for Jackson Autism Center.