By Rachel Kripke-Ludwig
Rachel Kripke-Ludwig is a student at Open Mind School and self-advocate for autistic people. In this article, she reflects on her experiences in special education, ways in which it could be reformed, and her goal to attend the University of California Santa Cruz.
Expectations matter. When I matriculated at my current school, for much of the day, I could not even stay in the building. Sensory overload prevented me from concentrating. The teachers brought my lessons outside and built trust that they would teach me even if my body eloped. I am now regulated at school almost all of the time. I could not have gotten there without their firm belief that I could learn even when I could not yet fully demonstrate it. One way I learn is from field trips to meet interesting people. My school also brings scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, personal trainers, nurses, students, and other creative people to the school. Visiting teachers lead units in their area of specialty to create ongoing meaningful experiential programs where teachers grow as much as the students do. Challenging education keeps teachers engaged. It is much more fulfilling than rote drills and nursery rhymes that bore aides as much as students.
I achieved my goal of moving from a school that emphasized functional skills to one that could provide me with college preparation despite “evidence-based practice” and “highly qualified teachers.” The missing ingredients were not found in training manuals or pharmacies. It was persistent fearless people who believed I could learn who saved me from boredom and failure. It took 5 years, but because of them, I am no longer a simple forest composter. I am a bright yellow Banana Slug, a symbol of the value of all creatures.
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