According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are more than 4 million children with a disability in the United States.
We all have the right to see our children succeed in school and life. Our children have the right to be treated fairly and equally in school. It’s our responsibility to teach them how to succeed and overcome. But what happens when a child with special needs needs us more than we need them?
There is a unique bond between fathers and sons, especially when both have to work their way through an education system in which they are both equally and seriously underrepresented. Bobby Fraser, a black man from Dekalb County, Georgia, is one of only 2 percent black male educators in the country. Her son Bobby Jr. a black student from Dekalb County, is among about 2 percent of male students diagnosed with autism, according to the City of Atlanta’s Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (MADDSP).
Fraser shared his unique perspective as a father, autism advocate, and one of the few black male educators in the country, and talked about the incredible bond he shares with his son. According to author Chandra Whitfield, the 2% of those who represent black male educators in America do not reflect the importance they have to our students – especially young black boys. In his article Only Two Percent of Teachers Are Black Males, But Research Confirms They Matter, Whitfield points to the effect of regular, positive interaction with a black teacher on these students.
Although black male educators are considered rare, Bobby Jr. is one of the lucky ones who had access to one of the 2% of black male educators as a role model and father figure. A 2011 study of the subjective quality of life of parents of children with autism spectrum disorders found that fathers raising a child with autism reported higher levels of stress, parenting problems and lower life satisfaction than fathers raising a child without autism spectrum disorder.
Anyway, Bobby says: I have always been an advocate for children with similar problems. Bobby discovered early on that working with autistic children was his destiny. As a father and son, the most important thing for Bobby’s bond with me is that I understand and acknowledge what is important to him. He loves many things, so the first step is to not let his love for things get out of hand, but also to cultivate that love. We try to spend time with the family and outside so that he develops naturally in the area of education, so that he understands that school is not just a building.
Bobby insists on playing with his son and talking like he’s a normal nine-year-old. I have to remind myself that he is very intelligent, but at the same time understand that he has a disorder. He is beginning to develop at a normal rate in terms of understanding right and wrong and controlling his impulses, and we must constantly remind him how to control them. He is in therapy for his disorder, and we are counseling him to make sure we can use some of the techniques they suggest.
According to the CDC, there are approximately 24,113 children in Dekalb and Gwinnett counties who are about 8 years old. 41% of the students are black and 27% are white. According to recent state data, boys in Georgia are four times more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). When asked why it was important for him to advocate for autism awareness, especially as an educator of color, Fraser described how he got involved before he even knew his son would be diagnosed.
God had prepared me for this three years before Bobby was born. Before that, he worked at Gables Academy, a high school specializing in children with autism, spectrum disorders and many other disabilities. He also believes that the best practice to improve the success of our children is to integrate them into society. In a 2018 study of African-American fathers raising a child with autism, author Shannon Latoya Burns-Darden concluded that there is very little research in this area.
However, their research confirmed that fathers feel there is a lack of knowledge and awareness about autism in African-American communities. As we prepare our children for the real world, we need to make sure they have all the opportunities, the right tools, and the support they need to thrive in what they love. Bobby believes his success with his son is due in large part to his focus on self-education above all else, encouraging others to do the same, and advocating for autism awareness.
As an educator, advocate and parent, Bobby also appreciates the role of the community in providing much needed support to him and other families facing the challenges of raising children with special needs. Photo by Rido, licensed to Canva.