by Shanay Watson-Whittaker
Crossposted from www.lafemmenegrita.com
My 15-year-old daughter, Alexis is one of my greatest inspirations. She has Asperger’s Syndrome and she embraces it! She is brilliant and focused on achieving her goals. She wants to be an economist, a financial advisor and the owner of her own investment firm!
According to Autism Speaks, Asperger’s Syndrome “ is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.”
Asperger’s Syndrome behavior symptoms:
- Limited or inappropriate social interactions
- “Robotic” or repetitive speech challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc. coupled with average to above average verbal skills
- Tendency to discuss self rather than others
- Inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
- Lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
- Obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
- One-sided conversations
- Awkward movements and/or mannerisms
In 1998, Alexis was born in New York City. She was a normal baby. As she grew older, I noticed that she loved to read financial magazines and personal finance books. She recited passages from these books word for word. I thought it was cool but unusual. I thought she was a quirky and nerdy child but she had speech issues.
In kindergarten, I requested an Individual Education Program Test (IEP) for her speech. She met with a psychologist, a social worker, a speech therapist and a special education teacher. The results of the IEP stated that she was extremely intelligent – she could read on a college level but she had speech problems. Her father and I sent Alexis to a school, two hours each way on a school bus from the Eastside of the Bronx to the Westside of the Bronx for speech therapy.
Her Bio-Dad and I stopped this mess. We went to the Superintendent’s office and demanded that she receive speech therapy at her local school located across the street from us. I talked to other parents about this issue. We sent letters and made calls. Finally, the Superintendent assigned a speech therapist to her local school.
From first grade through fourth grade, Alexis attended special education classes, although, I wanted her to have speech therapy. She excelled in the math, science, and reading standardized tests. I knew enough was enough! I demanded that she attend standard classes. Initially, her teachers resisted but the school integrated her in standard classes. Although, she participated in standard classes, the school continued to label her as a special education student. To me, it was about the money! Special education students bring in $40K per pupil compared to $19K for non-special education students.
In 2008, we moved to Detroit, Michigan. My fiancé and I refused to stigmatize Alexis as a special education student. According to Dr. Jamila Codrington Ph.D and Halford H. Fairchild, Ph.D in the Special Education and the Mis-education of African American Children: A Call to Action “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 documented alarming statistics: although African Americans represented only 16% of elementary and secondary students in the U.S., they constituted 21% of total enrollments in special education, and poor African-American children were 2.3 times more likely to be identified by their teacher as having mental retardation than their White counterparts.” The special education disparities frightened me.
In the fifth grade, Alexis attended a charter school. She received speech therapy but her behavior changed. A teacher told us that Alexis regularly misbehaved. It shocked us because Alexis was a great kid. The teacher told us that Alexis read books unrelated to her class and did not listen. I thought Alexis was rebelling but a teacher told me that these are signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. She told me that Alexis isolated herself and became obsessed with her library books. Initially, I denied the signs but eventually, my fiancé and I researched Asperger’s Syndrome. We realized that her teacher was right.
In sixth grade, we transferred her to a public school. She earned high grades but we had to deal with her behavior issues. On a whim, we decided that Alexis should take the test to an elite public school. One of her teachers doubted Alexis’ ability. Well, Alexis graduated from that elite middle school with honors.
In 2012, Alexis struggled during her first semester at an elite high school. She had to adjust to travelling to school via public transportation, having different classes on different days, getting to her classes, and dealing with teachers who were impatient with her. Students bullied Alexis too! Her grades suffered and she was on the verge of getting kicked out of school. Despite all of her obstacles, she decided that she not to quit.
She buckled down in summer school, made friends, and created a structure for herself. Each morning, she wakes up at a specific time, rides two buses, and socializes with her classmates. She found herself in a clique of “eclectic” kids who are into the arts, Indie music, and the Sims games. She displays confidence in herself and her abilities. She knows she is smart and will tell you that in a New York minute! Alexis will stand up for herself without help and she knows that she is a cutie. She now has a “so-called” boyfriend and the Dads – Step Dad and Bio Dad aren’t too happy about it!
I am very proud of my daughter. She socializes with other Aspies in chat groups and she encourages them to make friends. Her growth is exceptional. Alexis inspires me.
I hope her story inspires you too!
Shanay Watson-Whittaker is a Democratic activist and organizer. She was the former Chair of the Young Democrats of America Minority Caucus. Shanay is the owner of an Ebay store called Shay’s Chic Boutique, she is a motivational speaker, a blogger at La Femme Negrita and a genealogy enthusiast. She lives in Detroit, MI with her husband, Ken and their six kids. You can follow Shanay on Twitter as LaFemme_Negrita and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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