Max, a tenth grade student from Germany, is heading to nationals. Nothing unusual, one would say. But Max is autistic. His self-composed song “I Need You” won in the state of Maryland in the PTA’s Reflections Art Contest. The contest, held annually since 1969, asks students across the nation and in American schools abroad to delve into their creativie side. Each year, students of all grade levels create and submit works of art in the fields of dance, film production, literature, music composition, photography and the visual arts. The theme of the Reflection’s art contest this year is “What Is Your Story?”
PTA Reflections Art Contest
Max is a student at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland. He has been playing the piano, singing and composing his own music since he was five years old. He used this years’ prompt to shine light on the experience of being autistic. His song, which he composed and sang himself, exposes both his daily troubles and ambitions and presents a distinctive self-awareness about how he interprets the world or occasionally acts different than others. In his project’s submission summary he writes, “Everybody has a story, but mine is different, because I’m different. I am autistic; I see the world with other eyes."
I Need You Lyrics:
“I am autistic
And I see the world different
With lots of drama like a movie
There is drama everywhere I look
And it never ever has an ending
I talk to myself out loud sometimes
I talk most of the time when I’m alone in a room
And I see pictures inside my head too
When I let my imagination free”
Max is the son of German colleagues at the German Embassy in Washington. His parents applied to be posted in the United States due in large part to the country’s exceptional programs and support services for citizens with special needs. Special needs programs in the US were made mandatory in 1975 when Congress passed the Education For All Handicapped Children Act, now renamed the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. In addition to setting academic goals, the mandatory support provided within American classrooms addresses self-care, social skills, physical, speech and vocational training. Students with special needs are not immediately separated into different schools - as they traditionally are in Germany -but often integrated into normal classrooms where they can learn from and interact with average students while receiving additional support where needed. For Max, this means having the option of using a school computer when writing - which is of particular difficulty for him - but also learning to deal with daily situations in school. Thanks to the support of his school, Max had made huge progress both academically and socially. He was ready to enter this year’s Reflections contest to let people hear his music, show them what he is capable of, and to give insight into how he sees the world.
“I want people to understand me better and accept me how I am,” he says. “I also want to show that dreams do come true and that everybody deserves a chance. I was not always this lucky to have one.” The US is unique with its funding and political support of those with special needs. The US spends approximately $50 billion per year on special education services, amounting to $8,080 per student, the Center for Special Education Finance reports. An additional $1 billion is expended on additional programs for those in ESL or gifted programs.
The support of both federal and state programs for students with special needs allows and helps students with special needs to become integrated in society and, as Max wrote, “to live a normal life.”
Reflections National Competition
In previous school years, nearly 300,000 students in over 8,000 schools across the country and in US schools overseas contributed their original works to be considered for PTA’s highest honor in the arts at the PTA Reflections National Competition. The National Awards announcement will be released on May 1, with an award ceremony in Las Vegas following the announcement in June.
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