By Julie Obradovic
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak on a graduate panel. I had been asked to do so by one of my professors in Educational Administration. I will receive my second master’s degree in education next week.
Back in November, I was in his class the night of the congressional hearings on autism. For the first time ever, I kept my phone out and peeked at the emails and texts coming in from friends who were there. I could hardly pay attention, and at one point, I did one of those weird silent “YEAH!” moves with my fist pumped at the most inopportune time. One of my classmates looked at me like I was nuts.
My professor made a comment that night. Something to the effect of never being able to Google his name, and how he could care less. He told us that if we really wanted to get into administration we’d better be ready to be disliked, to take a stand, and to fight for what we believe is right.
I snickered. Been there, done that, I thought.
Our task that night was to write about it, and so I did. I told the whole sorted tale of the last ten years of my life. How it happened, what I did about it, and where I am today. And then I submitted it hoping I wouldn’t get dropped from the class. You just never know what people are going to think.
When we got our papers back, he asked to speak with me privately.
Oh. Crap. Here it comes.
But I was wrong. He wanted to meet me for coffee and learn more.
We met for over an hour in January. By the end of our conversation, he asked me if I would like to participate in a panel he was putting together. In light of the Sandy Hook shootings, he wanted me to talk about the role of skyrocketing illness in children and how that is effecting education and society. I was honored and gladly accepted.
And so last month the panel convened. In front of an audience of undergraduate and graduate students, each of us shared a unique perspective on education. In addition to my topic, we discussed the impact of mass media, security risks, bullying, resources, and even the dignity of human life. It was a panel full of controversial positions, which was oddly comforting.
I wish I could say I wasn’t nervous. That’s not true. I’ve long wondered why Education has not held the Medical Industrial Complex accountable for the problem they created, perpetuate, and profit from, and yet for which educators are held responsible in every way imaginable.
But it’s one thing to think that and a whole different thing to say it. This was a chance I couldn’t pass up, and simultaneously, a chance that made me want to throw up.
I structured the 15-minute talk into several segments: the problem, the impact, the cause, and the solution. I gave the current statistics on physical and neurodevelopmental disorders; discussed how they are impacting our success in schools, our society, the economy, and the military; made some predictions about the future; went into the causes (the “M’s” as I call them; mercury, medicine, and mankind) and tried to offer some solutions for moving forward.
Clearly that’s a lot to talk about in that amount of time, so I barely touched the tip of the iceberg. But I said it. I put it out there.
Afterwards, I got a lot of reactions. Most were from the classmates I knew who were stunned that I had never shared any of this with them. One was from a different professor who asked me to talk to our class the next time we meet. And others were interested audience members complimenting me on my delivery.
Most exciting, I had brought a box of Age of Autism books with me and passed them all out. One special education teacher asked for four, and has since requested more. I gladly obliged.
Surprisingly, no one confronted me. I had thought for sure someone would want to challenge me or tell me I was crazy or something. No one did. In fact, the only comment someone made to my face was, “You forgot an ‘M’. Monsanto.”
I laughed and agreed.
But sure enough, there were critics. They just chose to do it anonymously. Within a few days the evaluations were shared, and although I am happy to report I was repeatedly referred to as interesting and informative, I did have a few angry responses.
“Autism is NOT a chronic illness. Autism should NOT be considered one. Science is PROVING it is genetic!”
The words were capitalized and underlined. This person was angry.
I was disappointed this person didn’t say anything at the panel. This comment is a perfect example of a very real problem in education. This is what teachers are taught, that autism is a genetic, lifelong, unavoidable, and untreatable condition. I’m not surprised my words offended them. For if that part of their training is wrong, what else is? It’s unnerving.
I would have loved to been able to calmly and matter-of-factly respond, “I’m sorry, but you’ve never been more wrong about anything in your life, and I can prove it. Here, have a book.”
I will continue to speak out about this issue. Educators and taxpayers, I hope, are finally tired of being bankrupted by, blamed for, and frankly, shot at, because of mental and physical conditions created and exacerbated by those who profit from them.
How’s that for unnerving?
Julie Obradovic is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.