To learn more about education and inclusion, we asked Sarah Stup to tell us about her educational experiences growing up. Sarah is a critically acclaimed author, and well-known blogger. Sarah types to speak, and has much to share with us about inclusion in the educational environment.
Did you attend general education or special education classes growing up?
I went to a special education [Level V] school until I was 8 years old [in 1991] and was able to communicate that I was smart and needed to be in regular school just like my sister. With a school like that, it was my hope to be safe and happy and to learn more about our world. I also wanted to find a way to cure myself. With a cure, I could be a real person not thought to be an empty shell with no inhabitant. People did not think I was inside a body that acted like a naughty baby and took no instruction from me. But I was inside, hidden.
I wished to vote to go to my sister’s school, but they were unwelcoming. A nice school administrator found me another elementary school that was a great place where autism was not feared. Even so, it was not easy to read and write with so much noise. But I did get good friends and teachers there.
Can you tell us about your special education experiences?
I attended a school with students who were all disabled, and it was not a good place for me. We all tried to please teachers, but they asked us to be quiet and march around with a tried and true dead look that said a kid with a disability behaves beautifully and does tricks when trained. We were all scared. I was hurt there, but I could not speak to tell. None of us had power to protect ourselves or one another. With my voice found when 8 years old, I asked to go to regular school.
At that age, I was afraid I might catch other disabilities at the special school and become unable to walk or eat. I also thought I had autism because my parents sent me there instead of my sister’s school. I was so scared there. Wished to leave there above any other wish or dream. A good thing saved me. It was a voice. A new power.
Can you tell us about your general education experiences?
To be a student in Elementary added dear times to my memory. My teachers were kind and tried to help me. There, everyone was nice to me, and I kept a Journal with prompts from my teacher. That was when I knew I wanted to become a writer of books to bring understanding about autism and to let others know that we people with disabilities were real people worth knowing.
Middle school came with my reluctance because I was holding on to the love of my Elementary. I did feel scared to leave such a safe and true school where I was happy, so I refused to communicate the summer before. But eventually teachers began to have faith in the strange student they could not figure out. Kids were mostly not as welcoming there, but I kept learning.
In High [School], there were good and bad years. They did finally allow me to take assessment testing to graduate. I did get rescued by my Arc of Frederick County, and my support coordinator there helped me get skills to be a writer and blogger. He just did not give up on me, and there was an Exhibit of my work at a college with good attendance. I was proud. Wishes came true with The Arc’s help.
Did you find the work you did in school challenging?
Yes, the work did teach me, but sometimes it was too easy. Other times my assistant and teachers and Mom had to think of new ways to accomplish goals, like in Science with experiments when I could not move well enough. I did graduate with honors. With that came time for college, but High [School] did not allow me to start community college classes like the other students. Quit trying to be a pioneer at that point, and I am happy now working from my own home.
What was your favorite subject and why?
Homework was my favorite time as a student because I liked reading Literature. Time with books continues because I love stories. Education did help me become what makes me happy, an author and blogger.
What is your least favorite subject and why?
I asked to learn in regular school and so I have no dislike of classes because all taught me things I need to know. Education is a friend that stays with you forever. Students need to appreciate the chance to be informed.
What is the most important thing teachers should know about educating students with autism who are non-speaking?
We are inside and we are thinkers.
Our bodies do not do what we ask. We need to do weird actions to protect us from seeing and hearing too much. When asked to stop these actions, you are exposing us to a confusing world that causes us great pain. Please do not ask us to pose as normal. We hurt just to please you. We are real people who have feelings. Ask not for voices that are scripted. Ask not for normal eye contact. Allow differences.
If there was one thing you could do differently if you went back to school, what would it be?
I would try to be a better student, doing more to please teachers by helping them to understand me.
The social experiences students have are a big part of a student’s life as they go through school. How were your social experiences in school?
I wished for fun and friends, but a Beast called autism was with me to protect me from a confusing and fearful world at school. I needed the Beast’s protection. But others feared my Beast and either ran or challenged him. They should have respected his role and learned from him instead. I did have some teachers and kids who found me inside my autism, but most saw me as a weird actor on a stage of another world they did not care to visit. I was lonely and sad. Autism is awful. But I am God’s child.
Sarah Stup is a critically acclaimed author with autism who types to speak. She discovered the power of the written word when she was eight, but because she could not speak before then, few appreciated just how bright she was or the extent to which she absorbed her lessons and environment. Sarah went onto to graduate from high school with honors and has since authored numerous books, gift collections, poems and essays for children and adults.
Sarah launched her writing career with the acclaimed children’s book, Do-si-Do with Autism, followed by her collected works, Are Your Eyes Listening? Sarah next published two beautiful gift booklets, Nest Feathers and Heart and Spirit. Her book Do-si-Do with Autism became the inspiration for the Autism Friendship Kit, a CD/DVD set that helps build meaningful relationships between children with and without autism. Her latest novel, Paul and His Beast, for middle grades, took more than six years off and on to write.
Sarah’s writings take readers inside the world of autism, so they may experience its very sights, sounds and feel. “Writing is my way out of a lonely place where only God knows,” she says. “I feel alive to type. The lid opens and out comes pieces of Sarah, a girl with wings who soars above the place with no hope called autism. I am real when I write. Autism is my prison, but typing is the air of freedom and peace.”
Sarah’s work has been embraced by families, educators and professionals in the disabilities community. It has won the enthusiastic support of The Arc of Frederick County, the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council and the State of Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services, among others. Sarah was proudly named recipient of the The Arc of Maryland Self-advocate Award and the Frances and Lease Bussard Award for Self-advocacy. Art of Autism named Sarah Stup one of the year’s best autism bloggers. She has been featured in numerous publications including the Baltimore Sun, Frederick News Post, and Exceptional Parent.
Sarah lives in Frederick, Maryland, and writes in her cozy kitchen nook, as she is depicted in her website banner. She enjoys listening to music, walking, fancy coffee drinks, and spending time at the beach in Lewes, Delaware, where Paul and His Beast takes place. She enjoys meeting and making friends on Facebook and her blog.
To learn more about Sarah and to contact her, go to SarahStup.com.