An Advocate for Autism—Heather Smith Beatie (‘80)

Propelled to learn about autism after her daughter’s diagnosis,  Heather Beatie shares her knowledge with others.

Portrait photograph of Heather Smith Beatie
As an undergraduate, Heather Smith Beatie met with a counselor to review her options. The counselor asked if she would be interested in teaching at the secondary level, but Beatie had always wanted to teach elementary school. The counselor then asked if she had considered teaching in a special education classroom, but Beatie wasn’t interested. She said, “God probably had a good chuckle right then. I have spent the last 26 years teaching my daughter with autism.” 

Heather Smith Beatie received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the McKay School in 1980. After graduation, Beatie worked as a substitute teacher in her hometown, Arcadia, California, to save up for her mission to Uruguay. She taught second grade in a bilingual classroom for one year, before returning to BYU to pursue a graduate degree in library science. She received her master’s of library science in 1985. Beatie then moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where she taught English and math at the elementary level and ran the English library in a private boarding school. Following her work in Europe she returned to California to work as a bilingual public librarian in a largely Hispanic community. After the birth of her first child in 1990, she chose to be a full-time mother.

The Beaties have two children, Melissa and Scott. Full-time motherhood brought its own challenges. At the age of two, the Beaties’ daughter Melissa was diagnosed with autism. At that time, one in 1,500 children were thought to be autistic. Current rates of autism have skyrocketed to one in 59 children.

Beatie was determined to learn everything she could to help her daughter. She attended numerous conferences and parent meetings. She has read over forty books on autism and continues to read the Autism Society of America’s quarterly newsletters. Beatie carefully noted Melissa’s achievements and setbacks, and logged all documents pertaining to her health and education. These notes, documents, an annotated bibliography, and a list of professionals who worked with Melissa now fill six notebooks. Beatie provides these notebooks as a reference to those who approach her with questions about autism. 

“My whole approach to my daughter’s diagnosis is the result of my educational background,” Beatie explained. “There was no internet when our journey with Melissa began. My husband and I tried various techniques with her. One thing that the experts agreed on—and they disagreed on an alarming number of things—was that the best outcome for a child with autism is achieved with early educational intervention. I knew that education, including home tutoring, was our best hope to help Melissa reach her highest potential.”

Melissa now lives at home, although she lived in a group home for seven years. She attends a day program during the week, which includes academic training and self-help skills development, as well as a variety of activities at the center and around the community. Melissa now volunteers with Meals on Wheels and works at a local library. Melissa loves animated films, so the family sees many of them at the local theater. She is an excellent swimmer, and enjoys their pool and trips to the lake. Her brother, Scott is a senior at BYU. The family hikes together and spends time at local parks. 

“Education is the one field of study that is truly eternal,” Beatie has stated. “People will learn throughout the eternities, so there will always be a need for teachers.”

Beatie and her husband enjoy traveling. They have visited over 30 countries and most of the states. She has participated in several book clubs over the years and has tried to make learning a continuous part of her life. The Beaties currently live in Laguna Niguel, California.  

 

 

Editor: Sariah Farmer 

 

Contact: Shauna Valentine (801) 422-8562