My name is Gail Buckley and, most of you know me as an online content provider. But, more importantly, I am the parent of two children, one of whom has lived with autism for thirty-six years.
Meaghan was born in 1985, at a time when the ASD diagnosis was rare but growing and programs were being formed to address the exceptional challenges and sensory sensitivities that come with having a "different" brain. In this, Meaghan was fortunate, as there were schools, such as the Boston Higashi School, where they recognized and fostered the unique potential of their students.
Today, there are literally thousands of pre-schools and early education programs for kids with autism but, once your child reaches adolescence, the program options and therapies dwindle. When they reach adulthood, there is virtually nothing. The thought is that, by the time they reach their twenties, if they haven't made significant gains toward attaining the goal of 'normality,' they should spend the remaining fifty or sixty years of their life "just getting by."
Of course, if you are the parent of an individual with autism, you know how far understanding lags behind public policy. Our brains, whether we are autistic or not, are capable of learning, change and growth at any age.
Is there really such a thing as "normal"? Even if there is, most of us know by now that it is not a goal we aspire to achieve. We are beginning to make great strides in this country in accepting individuality and applauding those who take pride in their 'differentness.'
But that approval stops short of those with "mental health" issues; that approval stops short because understanding stops short.
It is still assumed that if people don’t look or act neurotypically, they must be less abled, if not disabled, when it comes to having thoughts and feelings. It is assumed that if someone cannot speak with the ease that we do, they are incapable of insightful thought. And, if they move and behave awkwardly as well, expectations dwindle even further.
My daughter, Meaghan, was 29 years old before anyone thought to introduce her to typing. She could not talk, so it was assumed that she could neither read nor spell, much less communicate intelligently. No one thought to question whether she might have language in her head that she wasn’t able to verbalize typically.
Turns out she did. And a lot of it. Piles and piles of words and thoughts that have finally found release.
Today Meaghan is able to type independently and has presented at numerous local colleges and autism conferences. But we have had to battle mightily against deeply entrenched misunderstanding, cynicism and skepticism to make incremental strides in getting those in charge of her life to recognize her personhood, much less her remarkable abilities.
Meaghan has paid, and continues to pay, a huge price for simply trying to be herself and explain herself to others. As she explains through her typing:
“Those of us with disabilities need to have a say, and for many of us having that say requires an alternative means of communication. Requiring slight support does not mean that we are stupid or incapable. It just means that it is much, much harder for us to do the simple things that you neurotypicals take for granted.
“I have goals in my life just like you do. An important one is to teach others about autism. Understanding is the key to getting better services and results. I want to spread the word that autism is not something to fear but rather something to have respect for.”
To this end, Meg and I have written a book together entitled ImPossible Dream. It is a fiction book, told from Meaghan's point of view as the character Anna. But is not just a book about autism. Rather it is a story of self-discovery and perseverance, of tragedy turned to triumph. It talks about what could be possible, if we only we had the ability to put into use the neurotechnological advances that are already in existence today.
Because the truth is, our understanding of how the brain works and how to heal those with mental differences and physical disabilities has now reached the point that we can HELP and HEAL just about everybody.
And this healing is NOT based on pharmacology; it is based on neurology. There are so many options available right now for those suffering from physical and mental disabilities - from neurofeedback to virtual reality to brain computer interfaces. At the very least, everyone with special needs should be equipped with simple augmentative communication technology.
But sadly, this is not happening. Instead, those who think and act a bit differently are prescribed drugs that dull their minds – not with the intent to make them better, but to make them more manageable. To change this, awareness is needed. Again, in Meaghan’s words:
“Those of us with autism are not crippled but rather blessed with having heightened sensitivities and abilities. That is, if you look beneath the surface. Having autism is a strength not a weakness. Not being able to communicate this to those who so misjudge us is the ultimate irony and tragedy.”
Meaghan really does believe that there can be a better future for everyone with disabilities, not just those with autism. And this better future can start today, if minds are open and made aware of the possibilities. But no one person or one book can make the change that is needed alone. The first step is understanding. That is why this book was written. The next one is action. That is why we need to add to Anna's voice. We need your help!
ImPossible Dream is now available on Amazon and other bookstores. Please check it out and help us to make the world a better place for those who struggle to be heard and acknowledged.
Thank you so much for caring.
Gail and Meg Buckley