Ever since The Thinking Moms’ Revolution was born, we have received many touching comments and responses. We appreciate each and every word of support and encouragement by Fellow Thinkers from all corners of the world. Today, we highlight a recent post by a Thinking Teacher. Though not a mom herself, a mere slip of a lass, this 21 year old college student/special needs therapist shares a paper she wrote for a college class.
Here are some of the comments by The Thinking Moms regarding Haley’s letter;
“TEARS. And mine don’t come easily lately” - Blaze
“Wow. She IS a Thinking Mom. I totally feel in the presence of someone who is going to make a difference.” - The Professor
“I love this woman. I suddenly feel a bit more hopeful for the future. You can tell her I said that. This young lady is going to make a difference in the world ♥” - Poppy
“Love her. There is hope. ♥” - B.K.
“I love her” - Goddess
“This is AMAZING! I love her ! 21 huh? I could be her mother, I’ll adopt her ” - Money
Please read her open letter to The Thinking Moms’ Revolution below.
“Hi, My name is Haley McPeek and I am a 21 year old college student, and fellow thinker. I love everything you are about, and was inspired to write something today. I just wanted to give the perspective of a fellow activist and thinker who does not personally have a child with Autism, but who is committed to healing the next generation.
Keep thinking!! Haley”
Thinking Moms Need Thinking Teachers
By: Haley McPeek
I can’t celebrate autism. I can’t celebrate children suffering. But I can celebrate the journey I have made down the road of autism. It is worth celebrating.
Autism didn’t choose me. I chose autism. I don’t have autism, nor do I have a child with autism. And unlike most people today I don’t even have a close relative with autism. So why did I choose to become a part of this amazing group of advocates?
My journey with autism began when I was 17, although my journey in special education began much before that. I have always wanted to work with children with special needs. Even at 8 years old in elementary school I knew I would be a special education teacher just like my mom. I loved going into her classroom and seeing the children she worked with. In middle school I would always finish my work as quickly as possible so at the end of the day I would be allowed to read to the children with special needs. I loved their compassion and their spirits. Every day, the part of school I looked forward to most were those last 25 minutes. I knew this was what I was meant for. Throughout elementary and middle school I met many children with many different special needs, children with Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, intellectual, and behavior disorders – I had seen it all. Or so I thought.
In high school, another one of my teachers picked up on my passion, and offered me a similar opportunity. Take two of her intro to teaching classes my sophomore year, and I would be allowed to spend part of my junior and senior years working in a special education class at a local elementary school. SCORE! I was pumped! Spending my days with the sweet loving children I so looked forward to seeing in middle and elementary school seemed like a dream come true!
Little did I know, fate had a different plan. I still remember vividly walking down the hallway, and into that self contained classroom in 2008, similar to the many others I had spent time in years before. But something was different. As I was introduced to the 6 children in the classroom I was shocked to learn 5 of them had “autism.” What was that? A spectrum? I had never heard of that when working with the kids my own age (born in the late 80’s and early 90’s). Why did Samara scream like that, why did Grace bang her head on the desk or the wall? Why did Ben put EVERYTHING in his mouth, and carry around this weird teething chew toy? Why was Luke always trying to run out of the door? Why was Piper who was able to read everything, unable to use the bathroom correctly or even speak? Why were all of these children exhibiting behaviors I had never seen before…I had spent my whole life in the realm of special education, I was supposed to have experience, right?
At first I remember being scared to approach these children who seemed so foreign and sometimes scary. They did not greet me at the door with hugs and smiles, as I was so accustomed to. They didn’t look at me when I spoke to them, and they didn’t seem to even care I was there. These kids were nothing like the cuddly kids with Downs or CP I was used to. No, instead of worrying about going back to class with a little drool on my shirt, I had bigger problems. I had to worry about being slapped, kicked, bit, hit, or cussed at by a 5 year old. This was not the dream world of special education I had always envisioned myself working in. I was not helping intellectually disabled children learn self help skills. I was not teaching “shoe-tying, and nose-blowing” as my mother often lovingly refers to her past work in self contained rooms. Instead, I was wrestling children into a bear hug so they couldn’t continue to hurt themselves; I was running (better yet SPRINTING) down the hallways after Luke every 20 minutes as he raced to one of the Coke machines he loved to gaze at. I was pulling paper, dirt, glue sticks, and whatever else Ben had gotten a hold of and put in his mouth. This was not the classroom I had envisioned. I would go back to school every day physically and emotionally drained.
But then something happened, I gained confidence, and experience. I learned not to fear the tantrum, and to stand my ground. I saw these kids had a sparkle in their eyes, and I knew there was more behind them. I wanted to unlock this hidden potential I saw. I went home and learned everything I could. I wanted to help these kids who were slowly stealing my heart. I began googling everything I could about Autism. It wasn’t until college, though that I learned the facts about autism that would change my life forever.
In college I began babysitting children with autism, and doing ABA therapy. This is where I met my first warrior mom. Being in the school setting with a child is completely different than working in a child’s home. Instead of working with groups of children, you are working with one child, and their whole family. You form close bonds, and are considered part of the family. You have interaction daily with the parents, and siblings, when you only get to see them a few times a year in the school setting. This is what made all the difference. I had never had the opportunity to be comfortable enough with a parent to ask the question. What question is that you may ask? “Mrs./Mr. _____________, What do you think causes autism?”
That question, and the following answer started my journey down a road with no chance of turning back. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube, it can’t be done. What that mom told me changed my life. I remember walking with her through their house, as she pointed out “before” and “after” pictures. Before and after what? I see a happy smiling baby waving to the camera. I see a baby cuddling with mom and sleeping soundly. But what I see next is startling. She pulls out pictures of him after his 15-month vaccines and I see the sparkle gone from his eyes. All I see is a shell of the baby I saw before. I see how he is wailing in pain. I see how he is covered in a rash. I see the pictures of him at 2 and 3 years old – blank stares, no smiles and waves. I see the child I work with today, severely autistic. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Surely, this couldn’t be, I remember thinking the whole drive home. I cried for him and his mom. There is no way this could be true. Our doctors would not allow it, would they? Our government would not allow this. How could this happen? This must be really rare! That is when I began my “real research.” I remember RFK’s article in Rolling Stone being the first one I read. The facts about thimerosal and vaccine injury were astonishing. Next, The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic. As I uncovered the cover-up, I was shocked, sad, and mostly pissed off. I was furious at the CDC for allowing this to continue, I was furious at the media, and mostly I was furious at myself. At myself, but why? Because for the past two years, I had punished these kids for screaming or running away, talked about them as if they couldn’t hear me, and viewed their behavior as simply “bad choices.” If I had a dollar for every time those first two years I said “Now, ____________, you need to make better choices” as they slammed their head into the wall for the 29th time. “You need to make better choices????” These kids weren’t choosing this behavior. I was mad at myself for being so ignorant. These kids were in PAIN. REAL PAIN. And I was worried about a stupid worksheet getting done?? How could all of the teachers I worked with have no idea? Why was I, at 21, educating my mom and other teachers about what thinking moms already know, and what I was quickly learning? Why did I know more than most people who were classified as “experts on autism?”
Then I realized it. First, most teachers, like me, had never seen autism until recently, and so when presented with it, they face it like they would any other disability. That’s a problem. Second, teachers, don’t usually have super close relationships with the parents of the children they work with. They don’t have the luxury to pick their brains for hours a day like I have in the home setting. These thinking moms do countless hours of research and are a wealth of knowledge. This is where the real learning happens. Another problem. Thirdly, teachers are overworked and underpaid. They bust their ass all day with little thanks, and even less pay. Their classrooms are overcrowded and under-supplied. When do they have time to spend hours pouring over the latest research, and if they did have the time, what incentive would they have to do so? Teachers today are so worried about standardized testing scores they have little time or incentive to continue their own education. This is a bigger problem. Some just don’t care. They don’t care about the epidemic proportion of children who are being neurologically damaged, and they don’t care about the best ways to help them. Those who do care, and want to help the children in their classes, are faced with a lack of support, education, and training. THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM.
It is these problems, and the despair I felt in the public school system, that has caused me to re-evaluate my decision to become a special education teacher. We need great teachers; I know that, so why give up on what I have always wanted? Because I can do MORE for them. I am no longer happy trying to teach academics, or trying to fix behavior problems, when I know the problem is much bigger than that. How do I sit back and attempt to educate students who I know were damaged and need medical help? These children have physical symptoms that must be addressed.
We need more people who are on our team. So how do we start recruiting? How do we get more young people to make the choice I have made? Not to become a special education teacher, but to become an advocate for autism. My decision to change my major from special education to Chiropractic was a result of all I have learned from a bunch of thinking moms. It was knowledge that sparked my passion. It is knowledge that we must continue to share. We must not forget young people when we are advocating and educating about autism recovery. Adults already have a career and a purpose, and are unlikely to change it unless they face autism personally.
Children and teenagers are still deciding what they want to become, and I truly believe that the future of children with autism lays in the hands of people under 25. It is today’s young people that have the power to make the changes that are so necessary. It’s these young people who will be tomorrow pediatricians, teachers, and parents. They have the power; they just need the knowledge. It is with that knowledge, I know that I will be able to help RECOVER the next generation of children, and that is what I am celebrating.
~ Haley McPeek
About the writer: Haley is currently working on her core studies and will enter Chiropractic school this fall.