Dear Teacher,

Everyday I read my Google Alerts under the topic of ‘autism’ and hear about the troubling stories that are going on today in our community. Between teachers who lock their students in cages to try to control them, to other teachers who show up hung over to school where they can get away with it because they have only nonverbal students, it is clear to me that we need to do a better job of weeding out the teachers who have no excuse of being in our loved one’s schools (it also gives a bad reputation to some of the amazing teachers out there today).

And then there’s you. The teacher who told a student that only white children could have autism so ‘you don’t have to worry.’ You may have thought to yourself, “what was the harm?” no other adult was around when you said it…

However, I was there.

For the longest time, I wanted to say nothing. To let it go like I misheard the conversation you had with the boy completely. Truth be told… I’m not sure what your intentions were but what I wanted to tell you today, if you ever read this message is this…

Today, African-American and Hispanic children are diagnosed far later than Caucasian children. The more stereotypes I hear in our community the more I hear about how autism is a ‘white person disorder.’ As we continue to break barriers in our community, I hope this is one we can break as well. I want you to understand that in our society, so many students are falling through the cracks because of a lack of a proper diagnosis and saying things like this will not help our community moving forward.

So, the next time you think of possibly stereotyping autism in this way I hope you can think of the person instead of their race. Could autism be more prevalent in white children than others? Absolutely. However, take a minute to think about our community. Take a minute to think about the autism awareness we are building right now. Don’t let this ignorance lead another to think the same way. Today, I know children with autism who are Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, etc. With 1 in 59 children affected by autism it hits all of us in someway.

Even if you were trying to make this student feel better you also did a huge injustice to a community that, more than ever, wants to be accepted for who they are as individuals. Trying to scapegoat a tired stereotype out there to comfort the needs of a student shows why we need to always be acknowledging autism as a difference, not a deficiency.

I hope the next time a conversation like this comes up with a student whom you can encourage them to learn the signs of autism instead, and help them understand how wide the spectrum of autism actually is.

We need people today to see autism as what it is, which is simply…

Unique…

(To help build awareness I wanted to share Autism Speaks ‘Maybe’’ campaign which is a series of public service advertisements designed to reach African-American and Hispanic parents and help them ‘learn the signs’ of autism. You can learn more about this campaign at Autismspeaks.org here.)

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