I was running late, rushing to brush my teeth and get out the door to catch my train when he said it.
Ryan casually mentioned that he had told his language arts class that he attends a social skills group. He mentioned something about sharing an essay he had written. I poked my head out of the bathroom and exchange a quick glance with Veronica. With a carefully measured tone, to not pass any judgement, she asked the question that was on both of our minds.
“Did you talk about autism?”
The answer came so quick, and so casually offered, it immediately eased my fears about all the implications it carried.
And with that, he was back to his typical hive of morning activity. It was an incredible moment, one that passed in a few seconds, but carried so much more meaning. Veronica and I barely had time to discuss it before I headed for the door. She mentioned that maybe the knowledge of his diagnosis was turning out to be empowering. I agreed.
I thought the moment would be the most significant one of my day. I imagined how I would shape it into a blog post.
I had no idea.
Late in the work day, an email arrived from Ryan. This is a rarity. I opened it with anticipation. There was no subject. There was no body text. There was only an attached Word document.
The essay he shared with his class.
In the next few minutes, I stopped everything I was doing. My typical late-day multitasking, trying to get everything done before leaving, ground to a halt. Tears welled in my eyes, both with sadness and immense pride. I hurt for the fear my son felt. I felt awe at the depth of his thought and his ability to express it. I felt admiration for this self-confidence and comfort with himself. And then I wondered how quickly I could get home to wrap him a huge hug.
And one more thing: I just knew I had to share it. So, with my son’s permission, I am doing just that. The following words are his. He wrote them unaided, and without our knowledge. And when he finished, he stood in front of a classroom of middle-schoolers and shared what he wrote.
“How Social Life Should Run”
Middle school is a mad place. We either fit in or we don’t. And if we do, great. I always catch in the corner of my eye, people walking down in big groups laughing. And then there is the extra person. The one who is thought to fit in with the big group, but really, they don’t. That person may struggle to make any friends at all. Do we notice that person? Maybe, that person with the difficult social life is us. If we don’t fit in during middle school, then life could feel like a huge waste. What’s the point of even going to school?
Once in fifth grade, I said something weird, and everyone started laughing at me. I didn’t know that I would have that bad of an impact on others. In fact, no one needed to react towards me in that way. Back then, I was considered maybe a little bit unusual. I could kind of relate to Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory” in which he struggles with social life. I barely invited any friends to my house and when I did, we only did what I wanted to do. I didn’t even offer my friends a “beverage.” But at least I had those couple of friends.
I remember back a couple years ago, I had no social connection to the world. At camp during the summer of 2011, everyone else would be playing video games, and I’d be in the corner, writing hockey stats. I cried at camp every day because I thought there were snakes there going to eat me. Now days, I wouldn’t do that. Other kids always attempted to make me feel that someone or something was out to get me. That’s what made me spend my whole entire camp experience in fear. However, being on the autism spectrum side, I couldn’t follow any social rules back then. I had to visit a social group to learn things about social rules and how to make friends, and I still visit there today. But back then, it was a lot worse. I didn’t talk about anything besides hockey stats. Other kids thought I was weird because of that. And I don’t deserve that type of treatment.
Although I am not exactly like most kids, I still have made tremendous improvement. I will never become a popular kid, as I never had been. I have not only gained social skills, I have gained hockey skills, and upper body strength. And I get the respect I deserve. So why shouldn’t anyone else? So from now on, let’s respect everyone, no matter what race or gender they are. No more “roasting” people, because one day, you’ll be roasted. I believe that it’s okay to be different. Of course it is, no two people are alike in middle school. However, if someone may need extra help, we will give them that extra help!