I’ve been hearing these commercials on the radio lately from Toni Braxton and Tommy Hillfiger and a couple others encouraging people to be aware of the early signs of autism so that it can be diagnosed. They say knowing early enough can make a world of difference. They’re right. That seems true of most things: the sooner you educate yourself about the unknown, the sooner you can act, the more prepared you’ll be, the better the results. I love the movement forward. I love that they are trying to spread the word. This can happen to YOU and YOUR family! Try to understand it.
I’m confused. What about people who aren’t having kids? Or people who have kids who are already grown? Or what about kids in general? What does the world do to be aware? Shouldn’t the whole world TRY to understand it? Do they?
Also, I don’t understand. Do we embrace it? Are we scared of it? Is it trying to be fixed? Awareness, what’s that?
Those commercials hope to bring on awareness, but I wish they provided so much more. This topic is on my mind daily. It’s a passion. It’s almost an obsession. It’s a world I am so intrigued by. I admittedly know so little, yet every day I am blessed to learn so much. I don’t expect people to be passionate about the same things I am, but I feel like if they really knew, they might be.
This started when I was young. Dad and I have only two movies we quote religiously: Tommy Boy, and Rain Man. “K-mart sucks!” every time we drive by. Trying to understand a character like Raymond took watching that movie 1,000 times. And even still, watching it, isn’t living it. Fast forward to high school. My P.E. teacher asked my friend and I if we would take the adapted P.E. class and work with a unique bunch of students. There was a range of students with a variety of disabilities. I wasn’t happy about it at the time since I’d be away from my friends and I loved sports, but how could I say no? It changed my life. That class brought me so much joy. That class contributed to my perfect attendance. That class shaped our future and turned half of us into the teachers we all are today. I LOVED it! I loved them. Naturally, I had my favorites. But again, it didn’t make me an expert.
My first half of student teaching probably should have been rough. It wasn’t. There was Artie. And who doesn’t want to spend the day with Artie? He never looked at me in class, but he was always listening. He was always doing his work and asking questions at the appropriate times. He was a vocab WHIZ after hearing a word just once and there I stood, every time, in complete awe. And, Oh yeah, who doesn’t love a 15 year old kid who can find a Golden Girl quote for EVERYTHING? “Picture this!” and then he would give a line from Sophia and often end with “Oh, Rooose!” He was infatuated. He had all of the seasons on DVD. It’s unbelievable catching an episode sometimes and thinking back to Artie. I didn’t realize at the time how racy they were!
Then it’s the first time I meet my husband’s (boyfriend at the time) family. It was my first trip to Pennsylvania. Everything is centered around food. It’s time to go eat our fifth dinner at his grandmother’s house. I’m introduced to everyone and they’re all great. The first thing his mom says is “She’s a Special Ed teacher from Chicago.” She said it because that’s what Megan used to do. His cousin Megan is there with her 6-year-old son and her 2-year-old daughter. Evan, her son, is sitting in the other room playing quietly with his trains. And Ella is everywhere. I’m dying to sit with Evan and ask him a million and five questions to get to know him, but I didn’t want to show my obvious intrigue after my introduction, so instead I watched Ella. Someone had to. I remember being the only one trying to watch her from the other room while we ate and everyone laughing at my paranoia. She came up to me with a hand full of sewing needles stuck to the palm of her hand at one point. Yeah, paranoid was right.
We got in the car after leaving his grams and his mom has a ton of questions for me. “What do you think of Evan? He never eats dinner with them. He’s always in the other room with those trains. He will only eat Lunchables. And she gives it to him. You believe that? He’s so pale. Do you think he’s alright?” Wait, I’m pale! And we’re concerned about Evan? What about the little acupuncture queen that could have stabbed her eyes out? I did everything I could to be very vague about Evan and keep light of the conversation. I’m not going to “diagnose” him or judge Megan. I just met her. Megan is his mother. She knows. She’ll do what’s best is all I wanted her to hear from me about Evan.
This was five years ago. Present day: Evan is a mini Sheldon Cooper. Flawlessly hilarious and shamelessly egocentric for all of the right reasons. He’s brilliant. How many State Science Fair competitions, Spelling Bees, and Math Bowls can this kid win? And if you ask him about trains you better keep up. His clever insults sting. He’s obsessed with swimming too, but if it means he has to play with some annoying younger cousin, he’s out. You know what you’re going to get from Evan. I love that about him. He’s doing independent high school level work and he’s 11. If anyone’s “alright” it’s him.
Now here I sit at my desk and I’m thinking about another fellow Lunchable lover who has had a really hard week. What’s with the Lunchables? Well, what’s more routine than the same packaging every day? The same amount of bologna, the right amount of cheese, and the perfect sizes they are to fit on the perfect amount of crackers? Ahhh…something to depend on. He craves consistency. So here we are. The most inconsistent two weeks of the year. ISATS. And it’s March. And it’s still snowing. And that’s enough to drive him mad. He loves snow, but by now it should be warming up. The bells aren’t on so he’s looking at the clock every three seconds. Not only is every class a different length of time, but all of his classes are flipped around. First, third, fifth, seventh, lunch, eighth, second, fourth, ninth. We’re at a level 9 and the day hasn’t even started yet folks. And the schedule is going to change tomorrow, and again next week. We’re not even considering that he’s surrounded by buzzing bees all day long. They tap their feet, their pencils, sing songs, breathe funny, invent noises with pens in their mouth…the list is verrrry long. (I get it dude, they drive me nuts too!) It’s amazing we’ve only had a few meltdowns actually.
Anyway, I think about this student. He is in a world mom and everyone else wants him to adjust to. She wants him to be as included as possible. He’s forced to TRY to adapt to everyone else when his little world inside is so so different. It makes me sad how little is available to him. For the most part, he’s fine. He’s a happy guy. But when he’s not, he reacts. He reacts loudly and reverts back to toddler meltdown status over something seemingly VERY unnecessary. Only to him, it’s earth shattering and he’s had enough! Maybe I’m being overly sensitive for him, and it’s not a big deal, but he’s got high school to survive and I’m very, very worried for him. So this takes me back to awareness and what that means for kids just like him or who are even MORE sensitive than him. I’m not his mother or his guardian. I don’t get to decide how to guide his future. I’m also not his future teachers or the kids in the hallway or in his classes. Right now, I do the best I can to teach and manage the bunch I have while keeping all of their needs in mind. (I love how that fits in one sentence like it’s nothing.) But, be aware? That’s unsettling. World of difference? I don’t think so. 1 in 88? That’s everywhere. This world is changing, are we aware?