Having been a special education teacher in Hamilton County for a number of years, I must say that it was a heartwarming experience to attend the Autism Awareness event that was held the morning of Wednesday, April 2, at Miller Plaza, and listen to the stories of many of the parents who have children with autism, or whose children fall somewhere within the autism spectrum, which can be a very broad spectrum of abilities and disabilities. The news lately has been filled with statistics about the increase in autism, especially in the male population. The numbers are staggering and disturbing. We still do not know exactly what causes autism, although there have been several hypotheses, but experts in the field have certainly gotten a lot closer to being able to assess and prescribe suitable programs for these children.
The range of autistic children’s abilities is mind boggling. Some of these children have achieved phenomenal feats, especially in music and rote memory such as counting, computation, reading; the list goes on. Today at the event, I was especially touched by a young man who began to play a song on the keyboard which he performed flawlessly and effortlessly. Upon hearing his name, tears welled up in my eyes, for it was then that I recognized him as being one of my 12 students that was in my CDC classroom in the old East Lake Middle School where I taught from 1991-1996. I walked up to him and asked him if he knew who I was. Mind you-he’s 36 years old now. In his familiar, monotone voice, and with a big smile on his face, he said my name. Now he may have seen my I.D. badge, but I’d venture to guess that he would have remembered me without it. This is one of the amazing abilities of some of these children.
I was also especially impressed by a gentleman in his late 20’s to early 30’s that got up to speak and talked about when he was diagnosed with autism and how it has affected his adult life. He is currently enrolled at UTC working on his MBA. His major point was that we here in Chattanooga community and industry need to work with these folks and help to place them in appropriate job situations. They want to be functioning, contributing members of the community.
I’d like to especially thank the professionals that work with these children in school settings and other places such as Orange Grove. There job is not always easy and sometimes the rewards come in small packages and baby steps, and can be few and far between. A big thank you goes out to Siskin Center, Orange, Grove, Signal Centers, and all of the other fine folks that work these children everyday. Thank you to the Hamilton County Special Education Department and all of those “special” employees who go to work every day and make a difference in some child’s life. Thank you, Mayor Berke, for speaking to the parents at this gathering, and thank you to Mayor Lusk and his wife of Signal Mountain for sharing their family’s own personal experiences and making this real.
Tonight, and some nights to follow, thanks to the contribution of a company unfortunately whose name I didn’t get, blue lights will shine through the Miller Plaza Pavilion. I hope that anyone passing by will stop and reflect on these children and their families and think about how we as a giving, loving Chattanooga community can help these children and young adults live a happy, fruitful, productive life.
To find out more about this worldwide event and to donate to the cause, go to autismspeaks.org. Light it up Blue is the theme of the event –Action has been taken to shine a light on autism. Thank you, Chattanoogan.com, for printing an article about this event, otherwise I would have missed it entirely.
Donna Horn-former Special Education Teacher and Kindergarten Teacher
School Board Member District 7