(Dillan’s speech from the first Spectrum of Opportunity conference in March 2016)
A very long time ago there was a boy with incredible challenges, so he decided that the only way he could have the kind of love and peace he wanted was to spend more and more time with his toy animals.
In school, the teachers had been trying to make up new ways to teach the boy how to be a student before they even understood him. All they learned and understood about autism was that it should be brought under control, otherwise the boy would never learn. Decisions each and every day made the teachers feel they were doing good for the boy, but for the non-speaking boy, all he had was his mind to hold on to.
Before my teachers could even begin to really help me, they needed to understand my autistic mind. Autism is amazing in the way my reality is experienced. My sensory system is like a movie that doesn’t play on the screen in a way you might think. You have no idea how important my sensory system has been for me. I may look like I’m not in this world, or tuned out like so many of you think, but what is really happening is that I am absorbed in the world around me. My mind keeps track of all the sensory information like a movie that I can manipulate. I am able to fast forward, slow down, and even pause the world. I have always enjoyed placing the world on pause and studying it in extraordinary detail. My teachers had no idea about having a mind like mine, and so we were locked in a constant battle.
Dealing with their academics was like a stationary bike, always peddling and going nowhere. Easy lessons repeating day after day in place of a real school education. Much of my mind wanted to know about the world like any other student, but it always was impossible. What my teachers believed about me influenced what they taught me. And these teaching practices were the problem, not my autism.
What I needed was my teachers to be my instrument. I needed them to learn and realize that autism is not a behavior, it’s a language to be viewed with respect. If they could have realized that, I would have played the most powerful music with them as my instruments of learning. Our voice is hidden from the world of educators. All they think, they learned from minds that are not autistic. All they learned could never have helped them to help me.
The right teachers are all around you. They are autistic, giving people that have been speaking for a long time. Listen to their stories and make the especially hard cultural change in the way you talk to and teach others of us who have not yet been freed.