"Carter": an exercise in presuming competence (2014)

(From spring 2014) 

I volunteer on Sunday evenings with our church's worship and creative arts ministry for children. The kids take fun classes such as kick-boxing, art, hip-hop, cup stacking, Sign Language, music, Legos, etc, and Biblical concepts are interwoven into the lessons.

Though children with disabilities are welcome into this program, most of those families seem to prefer the youth programs in our special needs ministry. We do have one autistic little boy, however, in the "traditional " program.

I shadow "Carter" (name changed to protect his privacy) because he is very boisterous and most of the volunteers don't know how to keep up with him. But he reminds me a lot of my kids, so I can typically handle him...in fact, we're buddies.

He is so very smart. He does need some redirection, and breaks, and modeling, and he does need opportunities to stim vocally and physically--but when given the supports he needs, a lot of the "aggression" and other behaviors that he was previously displaying are drastically reduced if not altogether gone.

He is presumed to be cognitively delayed. I think that's hogwash. I actually think he's advanced, but because he presents as so obviously autistic with his constant stimming, his echolalia, and his lack of "social norms," his intelligence is missed (except by his parents, both of whom seem very proud of him and very loving).

He was able to read two complicated Bible verses, practically unassisted, without having ever seen them before. And he fashioned capital letters A through F out of Legos, also unassisted.

Did I mention he just barely turned five? And neither of his parents are "scholars" at all; they're working class immigrants?

Moral: Presume competence, and offer acceptance.

Photo credit unknown

Recommended citation: Giwa Onaiwu, Morénike. (2014). "Carter": an exercise in presuming competence. Just Being Me...Who Needs "Normalcy," Anyway? [Personal essay.]