One Parent’s Pursuit of Autism Awareness

First published in the April 9 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

As a parent of an autistic child, I’m used to my child standing on the sidelines. School concerts might be the worst. While students get an opportunity to show off their amazing singing or dancing skills, our son’s aides do all they can so he can be on stage and not ruin the show. Recess is also a source of pain. While his peers play basketball, he is on his own flapping his arms.

There is one time of the year, though, when our son and others like him take center stage. That is Autism Awareness Month in April. This is when we get a chance to celebrate all the unique attributes that make children with autism so amazing. Therefore, it was immensely hurtful when his school, Bret Harte Elementary — which has a Learning Enrichment Autism Program — decided not to do anything to recognize it. Fortunately, after speaking to district officials, they changed their minds, but I wish the story ended there.

The planning for the event took place without including any parents of children in LEAP. When I complained about this, the PTA said it would make me the committee chair at their meeting on April 14. By this time, though, the event would’ve been half over and with the planning already complete, I took this as a token gesture to keep me quiet.

Speaking of being kept quiet, I attempted to post a recommended reading list about autism on the school PTA’s Facebook page, but it was inexplicably blocked. Upon inquiring why, I was told all posts go through the social media coordinator. When that statement proved false, the new story was only the committee chair can post about the event, so if I accepted their offer, I could post. That’s great, but what about the other parents of LEAP students who might want to post? Don’t they too deserve a voice?

Imagine your child standing center stage at their school’s winter concert for their long-awaited solo. Suddenly, the microphone is unplugged; the lights go out.

Silence. Darkness.

That’s where we live at Bret Harte Elementary.

Hilah Marca