On May 21, 2018, an eighth-grade student from Warren, New Jersey, had a message for the Warren Township Board of Education. During the public comment section of the Board’s meeting, Johannes Wellerding rose to address the members and others in attendance. This twice-exceptional honor roll student, who participates in both the gifted and talented program at his school and special education, had an important message for attendees; and he supported it with examples, relevant quotations, and his own life experiences as a person whose diagnoses include autism. The message was this: Different is not synonymous with deficient.
This wasn’t the first time that Johannes came to address school board members. During the summer of 2017, he was moved to craft a message about the lack of acceptance and sensitivity that he saw on the part of both students and teachers in the school district with regard to individuals on the autism spectrum. From early middle school, Johannes heard the term autistic used in a derogatory way — as a name kids would call one another throughout the hallways, at lunch, and even in the classroom. To his frustration, teachers took no action to curb this inappropriate use of the term. When bringing the issue to the school’s attention brought no changes, Johannes decided to follow his mother’s suggestion to go right to the top — to the board of education.
In deciding to advocate for himself and fellow students on the autism spectrum, Johannes was following in the footsteps of his mother Leanna Wellerding, founder and past-president of the Warren Township Schools Special Education Parent Advisory Group. What got her started as an advocate, she explains, was “that first IEP meeting,” when she found herself u...
You must be a 2e News subscriber to continue reading this content. Membership is free.
Register here for instant access or login below: