People all over the world, especially in America, value freedom as a means for independence and self determination. Although we value freedom, we often take it for granted. I believe Philip has a much higher appreciation for freedom than I do. I have always had it, but Philip has not. For most of his life he has not had the basic freedom to express himself.
As I look over the past week's lessons and conversations with Philip, I see that Philip was exploring the concept of freedom. It began last Monday when Philip and his siblings stayed home from school to observe Columbus Day. Philip and I did a lesson on Columbus and his role in the movement to colonize the Americas. We did not merely do a preschool lesson, but also discussed some of the negative aspects of Columbus's conquest such as his enslavement of the natives. After giving Philip a quiz, I asked him, "What is your opinion of Columbus?" Philip answered, "COLUMBUS WAS NOT A HERO BECAUSE I DO NOT LIKE THE WAY HE TREATED THE INDIANS."
The next day, when I asked Philip what he would like to learn about, he answered "Civil Rights Movement." We discussed the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s beginning with Rosa Park's famous bus ride, the various acts of civil disobedience to protest segregation, and the peaceful march on Washington leading to Martin Luther King Jr.'s momentous "I Have a Dream" speech.
After the lesson, I asked Philip to write his own speech beginning with "I have a dream." This is what he wrote.
I have a dream I go tie a eagle someday to a tree.
I am eager to fly in the sky.
So I ask the eagle how to.
She answers, "Address your fear and you so will fly."
I too might fly.
I am intending to fly high.
I am always happy to fly high.
The eagle is freed to fly with me.
A little while she tries to fly right into the sunset.
At first I was confused. I expected Philip to write something along the lines of King's speech perhaps talking about a world in which autistic people are fully integrated into society. That would be my dream. But true to a child, Philip wrote an animal story. As I analyzed it, I realized his story was indeed about freedom too.
I remember Philip once explaining the importance of "attaching" himself to a teacher who can help him get his thoughts out. I believe the eagle in the story is this teacher. The fact that the animal he picks is an eagle is very interesting to me. Why not a dog or horse? America has adopted the eagle as its symbol because it signifies qualities such as freedom, wisdom, command, and strength. Philip is eager to fly like the eagle but doesn't know how to. He needs a teacher so he can learn to fly and be happy. Eventually he frees the eagle to fly into the sunset, perhaps to teach others to fly as well. I may be reading into his story, but my hunch is that the eagle is Soma. Soma is the one who taught Philip to fly.
Tonight I started reading to Philip the book The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. When I first watched the movie Wretches and Jabberers and was introduced to Higashida on screen for the first time, I thought, "He is just like Philip. He cannot keep still either." They are more alike in other ways. Higashida wrote his book on a Japanese alphabet grid, just like Philip's letterboard. Higashida writes, "Not being able to talk means not being able to share what you're feeling and thinking. It's like being a doll spending your whole life in isolation, without dreams and without hopes." He says of pointing to letters on the alphabet grid, "Often, while I was learning this method, I'd feel utterly beaten. But finally I arrived at the point where I could indicate the letters by myself. What kept me hammering away at it was the thought that to live my life as a human being, nothing is more important than to express myself."
After reading to Philip, I asked him, as our bedtime custom, "What are you thankful for today?" Philip's answer: I AM NOT ALONE ANYMORE.
Philip and his sister Ana at Outer Banks, NC July 2013