There is a unique bond between fathers and sons, especially when they each must navigate an educational system where they are both equally and extremely underrepresented. Bobby Frazier, a Black male in Dekalb County, Georgia, is one of the 2% of Black male educators in this country. His son, Bobby Jr., a Black male student in Dekalb County, is one of the nearly 2% of male students who have been diagnosed with autism, according to the Metropolitan Atlanta Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (MADDSP).
Mr. Frazier shared his unique perspective as a father, autism advocate, and one of few Black male educators in the nation, to tell the story of the amazing bond that he and his son share. According to author Chandra Whitfield, the 2% of those who represent Black male educators in America does not reflect how significant they are to our students—especially young Black boys.
Whitfield highlights the impact regular, positive exposure to a Black male educator can have on these students in her article, “Only Two Percent of Teachers are Black Men, Yet Research Confirms They Matter.” Although Black male educators have been considered a rarity, Bobby Jr. is one of the lucky young Black boys who have access to one of the 2% of Black male educators as both a role model and father.
A 2011 study of subjective quality of life for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder revealed that fathers who raise a child with autism reported higher levels of stress, parenting issues, and less life satisfaction than a father raising a child who is not on the spectrum. However, Bobby expresses, “I have always been an advocate of children who faced these types of challenges.” Bobby discovered early on as a teacher that he had a purpose to work with kids with autism.
As father and son, the one thing that is key to the bond that Bobby and I share is understanding and acknowledging what’s important to him. He loves a lot of things and so the first step is allowing his love of things not to get too out of hand, but also to cultivate that love. We make it a point to have family time and outings so that he develops naturally in terms of his education so that he understands that school is not just inside a building.
Bobby emphasizes that he plays and talks with his son as though he is a regular nine-year-old kid.
I must be mindful that he is very smart, yet at the same time, realize that he does have a disorder. He has started to develop at a normal rate in terms of his understanding of right and wrong and how to control his impulses, and we must constantly remind him about how to control them. He attends therapy for his disorder, and we attend with him to ensure we can implement some of the methods they are suggesting and using.
According to the CDC, Dekalb and Gwinnett counties have approximately 24,113 children who are around 8 years of age. Fourty-one percent of students are Black and 27% of students are white. Recent state data indicates boys in Georgia are four times more likely to have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). When asked why it is important for him to advocate for autism awareness, especially as an educator of color, Mr. Frazier shared how he became involved prior to knowing that his son would even be diagnosed.
“It was something that God had prepared me for three years prior to Bobby being born.” He previously worked at Gables Academy, a high school specializing in kids with autism/on the spectrum and many other disabilities. He also believes that best practice for increasing success for our children is to ensure, “…that they have entrance into mainstream society.”
In the 2018 study, “African American Fathers Raising an Autistic Child,” author Shannon Latoya Burns-Darden concluded that there was very limited research in this area. However, through her findings and research, she confirmed that fathers felt there was a lack of autism knowledge and awareness specifically in the African American communities.
As we prepare our kids for the real world, we must ensure that they are given every opportunity, the right tools, and support so that they can thrive in doing what they love.
Bobby attributes much of his success with his son was due to first educating himself, and encouraging others to do the same, as well as advocating for autism awareness. Additionally, as an educator, advocate, and parent, Bobby credits and appreciates the role community engagement plays in providing the much-needed support for him and other families navigating the special needs education process.