I believe education starts from a young age and that tolerance, social skills, kindness and acceptance are just as important as core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics.
By Sarah Michelle
All my life I wanted to work with young children in the classroom, especially those with disabilities. I myself received special education services growing up and now am on a mission to help provide the same services to children that helped me become who I am today.
I was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and didn’t start speaking until the age of two and a half. In elementary school, I began to develop anxiety disorder and a learning disability, I struggled with attention and had trouble focusing in middle and high school. I also struggled a lot with my social skills.
My parents were told it was uncertain if I would be successful. Yet they always knew I had it in me to beat the odds and make my dreams come true. I love and trust my parents, and they were correct.
Despite my diagnosis, I have proven that nothing can stop me from being on a path to pursue my dreams. Some school personnel didn’t know if I would be able to graduate from high school with a standard diploma. Well guess what? I did!
It was uncertain I would be able to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. Well guess what? I did that too.
It was uncertain whether I could have a healthy relationship (let alone marry). Well guess what? My husband and I are living happily together with our sweet cat that we adopted from the local humane society.
I’m now a teacher assistant at an Early Head Start center in Utah working with high-needs children from low-income families and children with special needs.
I feel having autism helps me be successful with teaching young children with disabilities. It helps me see their needs from a different perspective, as I can relate to them as I too have a developmental disability. I view my autism as a different way of thinking rather than a “limitation” or a “disability.” My autism makes my teaching style unique as it adds character and a distinct personality when working with the children. I feel that whenever I interact with children they can sense my animated personality as well as my natural demeanor of accepting each child for who they are individually. I know each child’s special interests and personalities and embrace each child as equal.
I believe education starts from a young age and that tolerance, social skills, kindness and acceptance are just as important as core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics. Without these personal traits, it is often hard to be successful. There is so much not-so-good-news that the last thing we need is intolerance and exclusion. I feel that I have experienced a lot of this myself and it has made me a stronger person instead of bringing me down. I feel much of this adversity has built up resilience in myself and has made an impact on how I help the children I work with become resilient.
Although the children I work with are very young, with many still in diapers, they can still learn resilience. Resilience helps one overcome trauma and adversity. The early years are the most important years to become resilient and to educate about acceptance of individuals with disabilities.
Not only do I educate the children, but they also teach me as well.
I hope to get the message out to more and more people about my message. I aspire to become the head teacher someday and want to remain in the classroom on the floor with the children because I have always believed that makes the most impact as an activist, and I am an activist. I don’t sit on the sidelines and wait for things to happen. I make things happen.
The children look up to me as their superhero to help change the world. These children are going to be the next generation to make an impact in the world and we have to help them foster their skills, which is what teachers do. Autism doesn’t stop a child from pursuing his or her own dreams or being successful. That is just a mindset. It comes from the heart and only the sky is the limit.
Hopefully one day there will be no labels or barriers. I can see one day where inclusive classrooms will be the norm and more individuals with autism will be employed and going to college. I know the future is bright for individuals with disabilities. I can feel it.
My name is Sarah Michelle. I am a 26 year old early educator, artist, motivational speaker and autism/disability rights activist from the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area now living in Northern Utah. I enjoy art, playing the piano, exercising, yoga, zumba, outdoor activities, biking,hiking, nature, animals, cooking, gardening and learning different languages and cultures. I enjoy spending time with my fiancée Anindya and my family. I also enjoy traveling and animals. I have always had a heart and a passion for working with and teaching young children.