The Heart of the Matter

By Brigitte Shipman | August 5, 2021. | Autism, Mother Guide, Advocacy, Knowing Your Child

The heart of the matter is an idiom. When Joseph was in third grade he had several earth angels as his teachers that year. His classroom teacher turned in his name as a candidate for the gifted and talented program. He passed all the markers with flying colors except for one caveat, he also had an IEP (Individual Educational Plan). He was on the autistic spectrum and needed accommodations for his education.

We went through steps to give Joseph the opportunity to be in the gifted and talented program. The board who decided which children were accepted and which were not, declined Joseph. The administrator who was over this program gave reasons but the one that kept Joseph out of the program was that he had an IEP. He felt that a special education student could not be a gifted student. 

I even went to this man personally and gave him Joseph’s nonverbal IQ scores which were in the genius range. I will never forget the look on this man's face as I approached him. He glared at me as he reached out to take the folder from my hand and never uttered a word. I walked out and thought to myself that I will not be intimidated and I would find another way. 

I shared the news with Joseph’s core teachers including the gifted and talented teacher and we all worked together as a unit and Joseph participated in all of the gifted and talented activities. He was not officially in the program but I volunteered and we went on all the field trips, and he did special projects that the other children in the program were assigned.

The next step that my husband and I took was to become the Odyssey of The Mind coaches. (Odyssey of the Mind is a program that teaches students how to develop and use their natural creativity to become problem-solvers.) This was the first year that OM™ was offered to third graders. We went through the training and coached Joseph’s team. We drew the theme for our competition called The Idiom Inspiration

Idioms for a child on the spectrum was going to be a challenging concept I thought at first, but Joseph loved it. He knew so many phrases and loved the idiom phrase “It's Raining Cats and Dogs.” For a literal mind, I imagined he thought it would literally rain cats and dogs but he caught on very fast. 

So, although our son was rejected from this program for being a special education student, here we were parent coaches for a gifted and talented competition. The administrator came to our competitions that spring and never spoke to us. He just continued to glare. Deep down I knew we had proven that our son and other children on the spectrum had the right to participate in any program that they had earned to be in. 

Years later when I went back into education and I was an administrator over our Career Academy program, this same man came up to me at a conference and apologized. He finally understood that autism did not mean living a life with limitations. It meant living a life full of gifts and that anything was possible for my son and other children on the autistic spectrum. 

The heart of the matter is that I knew my son. I knew what his weaknesses were because that was the focus of his diagnosis, educational plan, and what most of his life was about at that time. However, he also had as many if not more gifts that he had to offer the world. 

My mother’s heart would not allow for someone else to define and limit what I knew my son was capable of. My heart is stronger than anyone else's when it comes to my children. It knows the way. It is scarred from being broken but it has come back bigger and stronger from my life experiences. 

I have not met a mother who did not have pieces of her heart broken on this autism journey. I believe that when you get to the heart of the matter, that is when you find the way. I have helped mothers get to the heart of the matter and when they get to it, they also know the way. 

On your journey, take the time to feel your heart and let it guide you. Yes, it is painful but it also leads the way. My heart has led me to writing this today. I asked myself this morning, “What does a mother need to hear today?” Answer, “Follow your mother’s heart.”

Autism Guide Brigitte Shipman Coach

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