MICHELLE BABITZ - ROBIN TRIGG
In 1977, I was seventeen and a member of the drama department at my school. As one of our class projects, we chose to present a play in sign language to a group of autistic children at The SEARCH Day Program. No one spoke much about autism in the 1970's so we didn’t know what to expect. I will never forget walking into the little gymnasium that day. There was a buzz of energy emanating from the children unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I knew right then that I would be a part of this journey for the rest of my life.
I began working weekends and summers at the Search Day Program School. It was here that I was first introduced to the practice of teaching from the perspective of humanity and respect. There was a common thinking at that time that autism was best treated with aversive and punishment techniques as a way to redirect certain behaviors. I have never understood that approach. Even at that young age, I knew in my soul that punishing these beautiful children was not the answer. I am so grateful to have found a program which validated my intuition and encouraged me toward a future of continued growth, acceptance and change.
My growth expanded to include an undergraduate degree from New York University. Challenging the recognized norm, I chose a more non-traditional path creating my own degree curriculum. The Gallatin Division, the University Without Walls, afforded me the opportunity to complete a two-year study program on autism and the expressive arts. I needed to continue to explore this change toward a more therapeutic and interactional approach to autism.
My journey of exploration and education continued. I was awarded a grant to attend Teachers College at Columbia University where I participated in a Masters program studying Autism and Adolescence. Then I received the privilege of attending The League School of Boston, one of the most amazing schools in our country. This path of education and growth strengthened my ability to share my intuitive beliefs first felt so many years ago as I walked into that small gymnasium. It was time to move forward, share what I had learned and effect change.
My career began on the east coast teaching in private schools that specialized in working with the most severe and profound students on the autistic spectrum. I learned so much from these students who had been deemed hopeless and learned to see them through a lease of possibility and strength. I am forever grateful for my training and experience at these private schools. After five years in Massachusetts, it became apparent that it was time for me to leave the east coast and continue my journey in California.
There are unique and profound challenges within the public-school system. After moving to California, I found myself working with many of those challenges. Special Education programs are especially impacted. Finding qualified educators and administrative structures that recognize and understand the needs of these students is difficult. I was gifted with a Director who understood my perspective and allowed me to share my knowledge, embrace differences, and focus on the student’s strengths rather than try to correct their perceived challenges. I was given unwavering support by her and I was allowed to create my own unique curriculum to more effectively address each of my student’s unique challenges.
These experiences and relationships inspired me to choose a path which has carried me on this awesome journey of diversity, service, caring, and love.
I spent the first half of my life growing up in third world countries, such as South Vietnam before the war and communism, and Northeast Brazil near the Amazon River during an era of poverty and struggling economy. My life experiences in these countries helped me on a journey to understanding, as a young person, what it is to live with polio and diseases resulting from starvation and undernourishment. I learned quickly from my parents and teachers the importance of being nonjudgmental and treating others with respect and honor for who they were, especially from my adopted Vietnamese siblings, one of whom used to pull himself across the dirt floor of his shack due to the fact that he had lost both legs because of polio.
When I returned to the United States, I became an activist for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and the rights of all minorities who were harassed or bullied, including those with Special Needs of all kinds. My career centered around Drama and using creative arts as a vehicle for self-expression and building self-esteem. After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Stephens Performing Arts Academy and a Masters of Divinity from The Episcopal Divinity School seminary, I realized that through teaching Drama, I could pass on to teenagers my love of theatre and the many ways it can help in finding out who they
are and what they want in their own lives.
Upon meeting my current partner and wife of 25 years, Michelle Babitz, I discovered the world of autism and eventually became a teacher of Special Education after we moved to Long Beach, CA. in 1998. I began by volunteering to direct autistic teenagers, in Michelle’s class, in Christmas plays and talent shows, and very shortly the Special Education Director of the School District hired me as a Special Education teacher of Moderate/Severe students!
For 20 years, I taught Special Education full time, and for 10 years, I directed 3 plays each year for Regular Education students at the same High School and was director of the Best Buddies program, which included both Regular and Special Education students.
Currently, I am so excited about passing on to others, through our next books, my experiences and knowledge of autism and Special Needs! I am also looking forward to continuing my background of activism and Civil Rights through protecting humans in this country with legal plans that assist them in knowing what their rights are in many life situations where they may feel they are treated unfairly.