“Teaching about autism and intelligence, the cost of nonparticipation by so many, and the opportunities for us as a society is the focus of my life.”
John Smyth wrote those words in January, 2012 as the opening of his essay called “I Am Who I Am”. This desire to actively advocate for the rights of nonverbal autistics has been the driving force that has motivated and propelled him forward despite great difficulty and adversity.
His personal battle to attain a real education, not just be warehoused in “life skills” classes, has been a long and hard-fought struggle. He and his parents had to fight against a bureaucracy that refused to acknowledge the possibility that he might actually have been competent and intelligent enough to complete a general course of study. In fact, the school board of the city they had been living in was so intransigent, that the family had to move to a nearby town that was more progressive and receptive to new ideas about education for the disabled.
In February of 2012 John wrote:
“I experienced resentment and regret and anger toward the teachers I had in earlier years who didn’t discover that I was intelligently present, waiting for a lifeline of communication. I would still experience it except that I am able to accept that they didn’t know and they had their own stories of reality and I am able to create a future rather than live in the past.
We need to open ways not to want to waste the time and resources already being spent so that intelligence is appropriately tracked and satisfactorily supported.”
Read John Smyth’s full essay, "Education", on his blogsite, AuthenticJohn.com.
John took great satisfaction in proving all the naysayers wrong when he received his Core 40 diploma from Brownsburg (IN) High School (with a 3.8 GPA) in September of 2015. He has been accepted to, and will attend, Marian University in Indianapolis in January of 2016. [Note: Indiana’s Core 40 is the academic foundation all students need to succeed in college, apprenticeship programs, military training and the workforce.]
Presumption of Competence
One of the biggest issues John and many other nonverbal autistic students face when dealing with school administrators is the presumption of their competence, or lack thereof. It is especially important that difficulties with communication not be taken as evidence of intellectual competence, as is often the case. It is easy for school administrators and teachers to make a blanket assumption that non-verbal autistics are mentally disabled as well as physically.
The fight to overcome those often mistaken assumptions is one of the most frustrating aspects of the intelligent but non-verbal autistic. John strongly believes that although a person may be unable to demonstrate what she or he thinks and feels, or may have great difficulty being understood, she or he should not be further handicapped by the attitudes of others.
“I experienced resentment and regret and anger toward the teachers I had in earlier years who didn’t discover that I was intelligently present, waiting for a lifeline of communication.”
When it comes to the presumption of competence, autistic children are doubly stigmatized. On the one hand, they are often dismissed as “low functioning” or mentally retarded, especially if they have poor speaking skills, as many do. Yet when autistics do show exceptional abilities, such as uncanny visual discrimination and memory for detail, their flashes of brilliance are marginalized as aberrations, mere symptoms of their higher order cognitive deficit. They often earn a dubious promotion to “idiot savant.”
For more information about this issue, read John Smyth’s essay "Presume Us Competent: Educational Right for the Nonverbal Autistic" on AuthenticJohn.com (opens in new window) on AuthenticJohn.com.
Don’t Just Complain, Do Something!
After his long struggle to gain acceptance and acquire the education he so greatly desired, it would not be unrealistic to expect John to have become bitter and resentful about his ordeals. But that’s just not in his nature. Instead, John looks at the problems that he faced, and tries to come up with solutions so that the next generation of nonverbal autistics won’t have to deal with them all over again.
To that end, John wrote “My Solution to Provide Nonverbal Autistics with Gen Ed School Credits” in September, 2015, in which he provided one possible solution to the problem of providing nonverbal autistics with an equitable education.
“My vision and ultimate goal is that all autistic persons who desire it have access to the same quality of education as everyone else, that educators first presume competence rather than an inability to learn, and that they are provided with the tools and support needed to make this a reality.”
Read more of John Smyth’s essays about education on AuthenticJohn.com.