‘Dear Teacher: A letter from H’ …Listening to Autism 13-year-old Style

Earlier this fall my 13-year-old son gave a presentation to my school staff (also his school) about autism, entitled “Dear Teacher: A Letter From H” and thus had the opportunity to teach teachers at his school about the way he experiences the world!

We followed this powerful presentation with a screening of the documentary Vectors of Autism.  And, yes, if you are wondering, I am highly appreciative to the teachers and administrative team for being open to hearing H’s message, and for taking the time to watch the film.

I am also very proud of my son!

One voice can make a difference…

What I have been so moved by is the way that one young voice can make a difference. There are changes that need to happen so that as a society we do a much better job of listening to those (both children and adults) who are on the autism spectrum. However, there are fabulous things happening with the work so many are doing to support and promote the voices of self-advocates. We need to be listening to autism…  and even one voice and one school at a time is important progress!

One of my favourite lines from H’s presentation is “I need you to notice the little things I do right – instead of the little things I do wrong…” 

Well stated… Yes!

We need to be listening…

I will continue to look for ways to support my child in his journey of self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-advocacy, and I know that many of you are the same path. Our wonderful children need to be fulfilled in being themselves rather than trying to channel the neuromajority to gain acceptance, and we need to support them in gaining the skills and attitudes of resiliency and self-worth as they make their way.

At the end of the day – when I got home from my meeting – H was puffed with pride at his accomplishment. This, THIS is empowerment!!

Here are some of the responses from the teachers with whom I work… and H’s teachers!!!

What jumped out at me the most was when H was talking about how his senses are different than mine. I’ve taught children with autism before and have never really given much thought to the the fact that they hear things differently. Then I imagined what it would be like for me to be a student in a classroom where someone was constantly running their nails down a chalkboard, and nobody else was bothered by it, and the teacher was telling me to concentrate on my work. (Secondary Humanities Teacher)


I was really touched by the power point presentation by H; it was really powerful because he brought to the forefront, in a real tangible way, how the world of autism impacts the person.  And the real human “feel” and “touch” he portrayed was profound. I couldn’t help but think about the many students that fall through the cracks and are dismissed, excused or passed over by people because many autistic spectrum individuals are labeled as difficult or problematic. Understanding and education is critical to bring to the forefront the importance of having a global plan to embrace the diversity of all people, and to bring to light the importance of acceptance and understanding of individuals on the autistic spectrum. Society must come to terms with, and realize that autistic spectrum individuals need to be supported and nurtured in a special way so that they can reach their full potential. (Secondary Apprenticeship + Work Experience Teacher)


What a thought provoking movie, Leah! How could you not have more understanding and compassion for those with autism after watching that? I left with great admiration for the courage that H and Laura show just getting through their day.  Most of all,  I was struck by Laura’s incredible talents, her sense of humour and how she is able to laugh at herself. There is so much about autism to appreciate and wonder at when these differences are viewed through a window of acceptance. Thanks for showing it. (Elementary Teacher)


H’s presentation, Dear Teacher, served as a valuable reminder for teachers to be cognisant of the range of perspectives and needs, not just for students with ASD, but for all students. I was touched by H’s courage in presenting to a group of teachers and by the content of his presentation. (Elementary Teacher)


The phrase that was going through my head as H presented to us was ‘this is my typical’. It reminded me of LGTG youth coming out of the closet, in a way. I also felt as I watched that there is a little bit of autism in all of us.

I really liked knowing, as an educator,  what is typical is for H. It taught me a good question to ask would be:  “Tell me what your typical is because if I know that I can do a better job supporting you.” This is a new way of understanding and learning about autism for me.

If I understand his normal, then I can better understand what isn’t normal for him, and then I can help. That is why this work that H shared with us is so important; it is a doorway to understanding more about autism from a child’s perspective. If  I have a deeper understanding of this I can do a better job of supporting students with whom I work.   (Secondary School Counsellor)

What’s next???

Next week H is again sharing his Dear Teacher presentation, this time with the wonderful group of teacher researchers from the Supporting Diverse Learners Field Studies Graduate Program.

And… we are working to make a video of H’s presentation – which may soon be coming to a site near you. No. Really! My boy H is rocking his self-advocacy skill!!

I am so very appreciative of the positive responses received from so many teachers. Thank you to each of you for taking the time to share. I regret that I was unable to publish them all…


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in Arizona TASH, Autism, Communicate, Documentary, Laura Nagle, neuromajority, promote social understanding, Teacher, Vectors of Autism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to ‘Dear Teacher: A letter from H’ …Listening to Autism 13-year-old Style

  1. Good luck with your presentation, H!! You’re going to be fantastic. 🙂


  2. Confessions of a School Choice Mom says:

    I would love to see the entire powerpoint. Is it available online anywhere. I have a 13 year old son as well.


  3. rebelmommy says:

    This is AWESOME! I love the teachers’ responses, and how they show authentic understanding. Great work guys!


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thank you! Yay!!
      I was very moved by the teacher’s responses as well. This is a wonderful example of why we need to recognize the power of giving voice to those on the spectrum to SPEAK for themselves and to share their experience!!


  4. Sue says:

    Love, love, love it! Way to go H. and kudos to the school for listening. So glad you and H. continue to spread the word and to share Laura’s “Vectors of Autism” too. I finally heard back from M’s former school and will be scheduling a meeting with the new head of the school hopefully in December. I plan to ask to talk to her former teachers and school counselors. I think I will also suggest Laura’s movie as a teaching tool.


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  11. tagAught says:

    Wonderful post. I am truly impressed by H’s courage, and I look forward to the presentation or video thereof. I know that when I was thirteen, I definitely could not have done that (even if I had known at the time that I was autistic). Kudos to you, H – it sounds like you’ve done a great job.

    Wonderful responses from the teachers. Do you plan to post any more? I’m really glad that the presentation H put on made them think, and gave them another viewpoint.

    Once again, congratulations to H. Your courage is something to be admired. 🙂

    😉 tagAught


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  16. This is an old post but I also am curious if the power point was completed and if so where I can find it….I have a meeting w my sons school on tues and am trying to gather info for it


    • Leah Kelley says:

      I think if you look at the links above (the ‘pingbacks’) you might find some other information that would be of use for your meeting. H will be selling a DVD of his presentation at some point – but I am sorry to say, we do not yet have the workings for that set up via the internet.


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