By Keri Bowers
“Hey momma drama… Are you coming to class on Sunday?” As usual, Stephen’s tone is warm, animated and inviting. “Yup. I’ll be there. 9:00AM.” I reply.
“Student reports, and then free time…” he says with a silly bend to his voice. I know exactly what he means; “free time” for Stephen means a “stim fest” as he calls it. This is a time when we get to engage in a free-for-all collaborative and lively discussion on the nuances of autism, life and the pursuit of happiness. I love these opportunities to stim. I’m stoked and happy to brave the subways with the imminent hurricane Sandy on its way to New York to see Stephen… errrr… Dr. Stephen Shore.
Upon arrival at 75 Varick Street and just before I enter the building, I am pulled back to his salutation: “momma drama.” Stephen penned this name for me a few years back. I adore this term, but also shrink when I hear it. Am I in my drama? I always try my best to stay out of the drama when I talk with my good friend. He has an uncanny way of grounding me – mostly because he is so grounded. Not a lot of BS where Stephen is concerned. What you see with him, is what you get.
As the mother of a son with autism, I definitely go into drama mode at times. Just recently I’ve experienced chaotic drama attached to my son’s transition into his own apartment – all while I have been visiting New York, unable to “save” my son. Stephen takes it in stride when I mention the overall details of Taylor’s shaky transition and over-expenditures during the process of his move. “Yes, yes, that’s what young adults do.” he says matter-of-factly. Somehow this makes me feel better, and I am reminded that most young adults go overboard with credit cards, and other new-found freedoms of emancipation. He is right after all. And, as they say, “youth is wasted on the young.” Were you a totally responsible and able young twenty-something? I wasn’t.
Then, as if called to attention, I remember instantly what is important and what is not as Stephen reminds me that Taylor will grow from the current situation to be stronger and wiser.
I instantly discard my BS – and fears, and remind myself to be the best possible version I can be of myself: a mother who takes a breath, and believes in her son and his possibilities. I realize that I am grateful that I am in New York and that Taylor has the “opportunity” to get himself back up and on his feet – with supports from his team at the ARC. Sometimes as parents we save our kids when they need to learn to save themselves. I smile as I chant in my head one of my favorite mantras: every great athlete needs a coach.
Stephen is like that – a coach to many, and an amazing professor at Adelphi University in Manhattan.
Stephen’s students – the final class of this term – file into the dimly lit classroom. The lights are off, and I am relieved by this because I am sensitive to florescents. As 21 animated, if not nervous students, chatter, write last minute notes, and deliver last-minute papers to the professor, I note I am grinning, intrigued by these people who are would-be-educators in the field of special needs.
The final assignment of the term is a group project based upon the collective and individual interpretation of an autobiographical book written by a person with a disability. Today’s finals include “Deaf Again” by Mark Drolsbaugh; “A Light in My Heart” by Young Woo Kang; “Nobody Nowhere” by Donna Williams; “ and “Hi, My Name is John: My Story of Autism and Survival with Learning Disabilities” by John Malatesta.
Can you spell “WOW!” I am impressed by the scope and diversity of the choice in presentations.
Of his students, I note that while some are shy and appear to be uncomfortable presenting in front of the class, most are enthusiastic and animated. Oh I am seeing possibilities for multitudes of kids who will be in their presence when they are in a classroom. I am in awe and inspired to bear witness to the power of education and how each of these individuals will pay it forward and touch so many lives.
Likewise, I am in awe of Stephen’s approach to each student’s needs and personalities. Leave it to someone with autism to share the finite skill of connection, understanding and nuances of special needs. And indeed Stephen is connected, supportive and very open to each students style and manner. I note that I am feeling more judgmental than him. Not in a bad way, just noting who I think will be the forefront leaders in their field.
As Stephen listens to each presentation – he takes notes on the merits of the individual and group composition, structure and attention to the assignment’s outline. I sit to his side, impressed with both the students and my friend and colleague. Both are illuminating.
As each group finishes their presentation, Stephen opens the forum up to a common discussion: “What did you take away from group 2… etc.?” he asks. Hands are raised and discussion follows. I spy excitement for what the students have learned in this 8 week course.
“I now understand what early interventions and why it is so important for people with special needs.”
“We are educators and should never attempt to diagnose our students. If we suspect something is amiss, or a student is struggling, we should go through the proper channels to recommend assessments.”
“My nephew has autism. Dr. Shore, so this course has been very personal for me. You have helped me know better how to appreciate and work with him. Instead of trying to shove foods down his throat and yelling at him about it, I now understand he has food issues. I am taking on different approaches to dealing with him based on what you taught me. I’m even helping my mother to understand we can’t force him to eat foods he is not ready to eat.”
And so on and so on and so on. It would have been wonderful for my son to have had such educated educators in back in his early days. Still, I am grateful for the advances in education and understanding about special needs. I am even more grateful that greater acceptance of differences is coming into view in schools and institutions.
Stephen – Dr. Shore – is a relative pioneer in advancing these causes.
ALWAYS SOMETHING TO SAY
Of course, if you know me, you know I had comments after each and every group presentation. No surprise there. I suppose that’s also key in why I am “momma drama.” I get a fire in my belly and want to share my strength and experience to those who might listen. Happily, Stephen not only invites me to share, but encourages it. Stephen is a true collaborator, always eager and happy to share the podium.
I feel energized as I share my insights with the students. It is a tangible experience knowing that I am contributing something important with these remarkable beings – seed planters – as I call the educators and professionals in this field.
The fervent, accepting nod of heads as I speak warms my heart. The way the students look directly into my eyes as they present their presentations also tells me that they get that I get it. For some reason, most all the students spoke looking directly at me, as if I were their target audience. Perhaps a visitor offered an outside inspiration to pump it up? Sitting in the front row, watching them as they look at me (or what? approval?) causes me to feel deeply connected to each one of them and their mission as educators. This is an awesome feeling for me – an odd, if not quirky visitor from California. This experience makes my morning at Adelphi University all the more blessed.
A NOD TO ADELPHI UNIVERSITY
Education – and moreover, continuing education is key. On a local, national and global scale, we still need more of it – much more. Yet the experience at Adelphi gives me great hope. I trust it will give you hope as well – that your kid and mine are coming into a place where there will be more opportunities, education and possibilities for this generation and the next – of those with disabilities. A time when educators teach possibilities and do not diminish children as they were often want to do in the past. A time when educators take all children into account and not just the cookie cutter kids who go along and get along.
I honor Adelphi University and other educational institutions who are at the forefront of making education in special needs a priority, and add, Adelphi could do no better than employing the experience and knowledge of someone who’s been there, done that: Dr. Stephen Shore.
Diagnosed with “Atypical Development and strong autistic tendencies” and “too sick” for outpatient treatment, Stephen was recommended for institutionalization. Nonverbal until four, and with much support from his parents, teachers, wife, and others, Stephen has been a professor at Adelphi University for several years now. His research focuses on matching best practice to the needs of people with autism.
In addition to working with children and talking about life on the autism spectrum, Stephen presents and consults internationally on adult issues pertinent to education, relationships, employment, advocacy, and disclosure as discussed in his books Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Ask and Tell: Self-advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum, the critically acclaimed Understanding Autism for Dummies., and the newly released DVD Living along the Autism Spectrum: What it means to have Autism or Asperger Syndrome.
President emeritus of the Asperger’s Association of New England and former board member of the Autism Society, Dr. Shore serves in the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association, United States Autism and Asperger Alliance, and other autism related organizations.
I am so delighted to know and adore Stephen Shore- a man whom I adoringly call “moon man” for his love of the moon.
For more information about Dr. Shore’s work, visit www.autismasperger.net/bio.htm. Dr. Shore is a contributing essayist to The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions available through www.the-art-of-autism.com.