Ghetto Child

I have mentioned before that my husband Pervis Jackson was a member of the Spinners, an award winning singing group, originally with Motown Records. Ghetto Child is the name of one of their recordings. I am including some of the words to the song because they seem so appropriate for our situation as parents of a child with autism. PJ doesn’t talk, but some of the higher functioning people with autism that I have spoken with have expressed these same sentiments.

“They used to laugh at me / Children called me names. / I would run and hide / feeling so ashamed / just for being born. / I was just a child / punished for a crime/ that was not mine. / Life ain’t so easy / when you’re an autistic child”.

I substituted the word “autistic” for the word “ghetto”.  In 1987 and 1988 when I was hosting a cable TV show that focused on autism, “Ghetto Child” was my theme song. (I wish you could hear the melody).  The show was titled “My Piece of the Puzzle” because I had no answers, only pieces of the autism puzzle. I was trying to increase awareness because there was so little information about autism during that time. I felt the words so strongly and I was glad that PJ did not feel them.

The media and the schools are paying more attention to the bullying problem now that it has become even more widespread. People with autism who were mainstreamed  and who could express themselves talked about being laughed at and bullied . That’s one of the reasons that I was comfortable with PJ being in a school that was for people with autism. It was called a “center based program”, but the mainstream advocates referred to it as a “segregated facility”.  I knew that PJ could not tell his side of the story  if anything happened and I was afraid that he would not become more aggressive if he were bullied.

I wasn’t the only parent who felt that way. When the “segregated facility” was scheduled to be closed, the parents banded together and campaigned to keep it open. They wrote letters and testified at hearings and worked hard to achieve their goal. Though I did not believe they would be successful, they managed to keep the school open and it is still operating today.  Another example of Democracy in action.

I felt that it was a good school and that the teachers were dedicated to doing their best with our challenging children. They even gave the parents their home phone numbers and made us welcome to call them if we had any concerns or questions. I appreciated this so much that years later, when I became a teacher I did the same thing for the parents of my students. No parent ever took advantage or became a pest, nor did I.

I realize that a lot has changed since then because of the increase in the autism diagnosis. I don’t know if there is a “perfect “solution for educating those on the lower end of the spectrum. I have seen students with autism in regular education buildings who were supposed to get support services.  I have seen them get too few supports or inadequate support. I have seen teachers with too much to do in the course of the day to give each special education student all that they needed.

I think that all parents do what we feel is best for our child with autism. There is no one size fits all solution in our situations. We just keep on doing our best and following our hearts as advocates for our children.

Until next time; May the Light of God surround you and may the Love of God enfold you.

Claudreen Jackson

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