Education

Different is not Deficient, says Eighth Grader to Warren Township Board of Education

23e07bdd4d23d957cdfe_9F4DDA9F-4D58-46A4-988C-6B9E5309DA09.jpeg
Different is not Deficient, says Eighth Grader to Warren Township Board of Education Credits: B. Nemcek
23e07bdd4d23d957cdfe_9F4DDA9F-4D58-46A4-988C-6B9E5309DA09.jpeg
 
WARREN, NJ - Different is not synonymous with deficient and autism does not need to be cured, a Warren Middle School student told the Warren Township Board of Education at its meeting on Monday, May 21.
 
Johannes Wellerding, an eighth grade student at Warren Middle School, took the opportunity for public commentary at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting to address special education in the district and to remind the board that different is not synonymous with deficient. 
 
And he said:
 
Good evening President Brezee, Superintendent Mingle, and the Board of Education. I am a current eighth grader attending Warren Middle School. In a month, I will graduate, after nine years in the Warren Township School District. Perhaps you will recall that earlier this evening I was honored for my writing? When in elementary school, one of my then-teachers said of me that my writing was “grossly below grade level.” I think we can all agree I’ve proved her wrong.
 
 In August of my fourth grade year I picked up my cello rental, and by the time school started in September, had taught myself a piece from the opera ‘Carmen’. I have, with the supports built into my IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, maintained honor roll every quarter each year. I joined the gifted and talented program, E2, in sixth grade, and have had the opportunity to flourish in areas that I am passionate about. In March, one week after my 15th birthday, I opened my first business.

Hi 

Sign Up for E-News

Let me introduce a few more people.

A German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics. 

One of the most prolific and influential composers of the classical era. 

A groundbreaking feed-animal handling systems designer, professor of science, author, and internationally renowned speaker.

Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Temple Grandin. Each of the individuals I’ve just mentioned have a commonality...as do I. We are each on the Autism Spectrum. Each of the individuals I’ve just mentioned, including myself, achieve in our areas of skill and passion, at high levels. 

I should like you to leave here tonight with the acceptance of one truth: Different is not synonymous with deficient. 

Inclusive education consultant Cheryl Jorgensen wrote, “Our judgments about students’ intellectual capacities affect every decision we make about their educational programs, their communication systems and supports, the social activities we support them to participate in, and the futures we imagine.”

I have, as you may recall, addressed the board before regarding special-needs diagnostic language being used as a slur in our schools. What’s become clear to me this past year, is that the appropriation of these terms and how they are used to differentiate and exclude special education students from the neurotypical, general education population are not only systemic in our schools, but a direct result of the language used by administration. What I, and my true peers, meaning those who are classified as special education students, experience is best classified as the “trickle-down effect.” When our diagnoses are used as a means of separating us by administration, teachers and parents, students in our schools learn to do the same. 

 In “The Creativity Post”, Nina Fiore writes “Forcing students to change who they are, in order to “fit in” with the typical students, does not make an inclusive classroom. Ignoring students’ academic potential because they need different supports is not inclusion. A child should not be required to change who she/he is to be included in a school.”

In the fall of this school year, a post was shared on Warren Township Board of Education’s public Facebook page where a student was honored who, and I quote, “befriended a student with autism and accepts him for who he is.” My reaction upon reading these words, posted so publicly for not only parents, but students, staff and the general public to see? “Great, my school district thinks I’m a freak and that befriending people like me is award-worthy. What’s up with that?” Clearly, I was annoyed. Here, in print online for all to see was a statement that implied that those on the Spectrum are viewed as somehow less desirable and that befriending or accepting one such as myself is somehow exceptional. 

Again, let me remind you of that truth: Different is not synonymous with deficient.

On April 24, I attended the BOE meeting held here at WMS. Superintendent Mingle, you made a statement during that meeting regarding the recent program piloted at Central Elementary School during Autism Awareness Month. On the BOE’s facebook page, that event was described as “promoting acceptance, diversity, and an understanding of autism and how we are all different and unique in many ways”. On the BOE’s website, the director of special services said “We are all different in many ways; everyone is unique. We strive to embrace diversity whether it be in the way you look, the way you learn or the way you communicate; each and every student collectively contributes to the fabric that makes the Warren Schools unique.” During your remarks, you shared for the heart-tugging and humorous reaction, that one student was so moved by what he had learned during the program, that he wished to cure autism. 

Cure autism.

Which is neither an illness, nor a disease. Its very name, Autism Spectrum Disorder, clarifies that. Autism is defined as a complex neurobiological disorder. As a spectrum disorder, its symptoms and effects are seemingly too numerous to list. But one thing is quite clear. It is not an illness . . . not an infection . . . not a contagion . . . not a disease. Autism needs no cure. I need no cure!

And for that to be your highlighted takeaway for the public from a program that was promoted as “developing and/or increasing not just awareness but the much-more important acceptance”?  I respectfully suggest that the mark was missed. 

As administrators, you are in the position to devise the ways in which information, accurate information, is communicated. I urge you to exercise caution in the future as your attitudes regarding special education and the students who fall into that category are always being seen, always being heard, and always being imitated.

 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Sleep out at Covenant House

June 18, 2018

I can enjoy the same movies over and over like it were the first time to see them.  My kids roll their eyes at this.  Well, many unimaginable things happen as you become a certain age, and you tend to learn to accept those things graciously as gift.   But I remember the movie “The Blind Side.”  Until I saw that movie, I didn’t know homeless children ...

Summit Community Blood Drive is Sunday; First 50 donors Will Get a Free Union Theater Movie Pass

June 19, 2018

The weather may have just started to warm up, but New Jersey Blood Services (NJBS) is already urging the public to donate blood as we head into the summer months.  With schools closing and vacations scheduled, less people donate blood from June through August but transfusions are still needed for local patients.   

“We’re especially thankful to our dedicated donors ...

Union County College Hires New Dean of Humanities

CRANFORD – Dr. Melissa R. Sande is the new Dean of Humanities for Union County College. Dr. Sande joined Union in the fall of 2013 as a full-time instructor of English. She has more than ten years of teaching experience and has previously served as a program coordinator, writing tutor, and an adjunct instructor.

As the Dean of Humanities, Dr. Sande will be responsible for the supervision ...

Summit Area YMCA Swim Team Tryouts July 24

On Tuesday, July 24, the Summit Area YMCA will hold tryouts for its 2018-2019 Swim Team. The tryouts are open to children of all ages, from the surrounding towns of Summit, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Chatham, Millburn, Short Hills, Watchung, Long Hill, Mountainside and Springfield.

THE FEE TO TRYOUT IS $25 PER SWIMMER. PRE-REGISTRATION IS AVAILABLE AND ENCOURAGED AT THE FRONT DESK OF ...

Very special "Annie, Jr." coming June 29-July 1 at Rahway High School

The CAU Community Players will be staging a very special production of "Annie, Jr." at the Rahway High School Center for Performing Arts on Friday, June 29, and Saturday, June 30, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 1, at 2:00 p.m.

The CAU Community Players is a troupe of actors both with and without developmental disabilities. Formed in 2012, the troupe empowers members with disabilities ...

Watchung Borough Mayor and Council Approve Affordable Housing Settlement

June 9, 2018

WATCHUNG, NJ -The Watchung Borough Council voted on Thursday night  to settle its third round affordable housing obligation mandated by the state of New Jersey. Watchung Borough’s immunity from builder's remedy lawsuits  expires on June 30.

 Mayor Stephen Pote was forced to cast the deciding vote after the council deadlocked at 3-3.

Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith Attends Gun Safety Bills Signing Ceremony with Gov. Murphy in Trenton

June 14, 2018

TRENTON, NJ -- Mayor Al Smith attended a gun safety package bill signing ceremony at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton on Wednesday with Governor Phil Murphy. Mayor Smith joined a bipartisan group of local and state elected officials, as well as members of Moms Demand Action of Union County, at the event. 

“As a leader in Sandy Hook Promise, I was happy to accept the ...

Union County Freeholders Support LGBTQ Community with Historical Pride Flag Raising Ceremony

June 4, 2018

ELIZABETH, NJ - The rainbow flag, a symbol of pride and independence fly’s high at the Union County Courthouse in recognition of June as LGBTQ Pride Month. 

This historic event by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the Office of LGBTQ Services, Department of Human Services and many others, brought dignitaries and people from all over New Jersey to the steps of the ...

What's Hot and What's Not

Summer is a great time to take a step back, sip a cool beverage, and take a look at what’s going on in the world of college admissions.  Departments use the summer to evaluate how their year went and plan on any changes they want to make for the fall.  Did they over-enroll? Under-enroll?  What application materials were useful to them?  Which were redundant or time ...

How to Design Your Ideal Retirement

Would you like to design your ideal retirement? Where do you begin? First of all, what does retirement mean to you? If you’re in a relationship, does retirement mean the same to you as it does to your partner? Do you know if your “ideal retirement” is affordable or just a pipe dream?

In past generations, retirement planning didn’t involve very much. You stopped work ...

Cool Ways to Save Money This Summer

As the summer temperatures rise, home cooling costs rise as well. But there are ways to help save money without sweating the heat:

To increase your cooling system’s efficiency by as much as 20%, get it checked out for summer.  A technician will clean the condenser, make sure you have the optimal amount of refrigerant, and ensure the airflow over the coil is ...