SCBE In The News

Perspectives (KQED-FM)
Holly Tabor, postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, discussed the story of a young, autistic basketballer during this segment. Tabor's child is also autistic.


Recently, America was thrilled by the story of Jason “J-Mac” McElwain, the high school basketball manager with autism. The coach let him play for the first time in the last four minutes of the season’s last home game. After he scored six consecutive three-point shots the joyous crowd erupted, raised him on their shoulders, and cheered his heroism. President Bush even went to meet Jason and told him that he wept at his story.

But I’m the mother of a child like Jason with high functioning autism and parents like me wept for another reason. Jason couldn’t speak until he was five. His parents probably worried he would never go to a regular high school, let alone be a basketball manager or hero. Jason is proof of what might be possible, an affirmation that our daily struggles to help our children might pay off.

But this is also a story about why this dream rarely comes true. For Jason to succeed, he probably needed his school district to provide intense individualized special education for his whole life. In tough budget times, it takes courage and creativity for school districts to fund and deliver these expensive services.

Jason’s success also depended on the support of courageous individuals: on a coach who gave him a chance and team members who accepted him even though he seemed different. Parents like me dream of people welcoming and encouraging our children that way. Maybe because of his story there will be more like them.

But I wonder: why didn’t the coach, who obviously believed in Jason, give him a chance to play earlier? Probably because he made assumptions, like we all do. Kids like Jason will never look like the most capable kid on the team, but looks can be deceiving. What if other people make the same assumptions? What points won’t be scored? What games won’t be won? Don’t people other than Jason lose out? Jason’s success is exceptional, but I hope it encourages us all to see beyond the surface of kids with disabilities and dream the impossible.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Tabor.