group and saw a lot of faces looking back at me in wonder, as in, “I wonder what’s going on.” Although I had prepared for a couple weeks, I started to ask for the right words to come to mind that would educate these young kids about not only Kian, but about autism in general. I could tell the class had some
nerves, but that certainly did not match mine. Understand, I have been presenting to people through our group for almost a year in public meetings, in front of the school administration and the director of Special Education for Weber County, not to mention presentations for my job where I’ve spoken to a room full of high level executives, and most recently a General and multiple Coronels in my job for the Air Force, but never have I been more nervous.
That said, I took a deep breath and just started talking. With my bride at the back of the room for encouragement, I started asking kids about their favorite food, favorite TV programs, video games, etc. I thought this would be a good way to show commonality. It sure did. I started asking them about specific things that my son likes to do, also finding common ground. I asked them about how we are different, how our differences make us who we are and finally, I asked the question, “what is a disability?” and “can you always see a disability?”. After a few kids had answered, one little girl in the back of the room said, “is it like autism?” I was impressed by this little girls response and question, I said, “yes, and that is exactly why we are here to talk to you.” She had a great smile on her face and my nerves were chased away.
With autism now on the table, I pulled out a few pictures I had brought along; one of Albert Einstein, another of Satoshi Tajiri and of course, Dr. Temple Grandin. One by one I held up the pictures and asked if they knew these people. With Einstein, I received many raised hands, but they had no idea that he showed signs of autism. They had no idea that he was a quirky guy, only that “he’s really smart” to quote one young guy. The next picture was Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokemon, someone they had no idea has autism but surely all of them knew about Pokemon! Finally, I held up the picture of Dr. Grandin, most of these kids had no idea who she even was. As I told the kids about all of these figures stories,
their brilliance, their creativity, their accomplishments, I would try to get across to them “different, not less.” Just like each of them, they are different from each other, they have different skills, and they have their own unique self. I was trying to get my final points to really sink in.
In hopes of getting the point across, I started talking about Kian’s struggles. We talked about his challenge in making friends, his sensitivity to loud noise, his quirky, yet very funny sense of humor. We talked about how autism makes him different from each of them, but I came back to the ways that they are exactly the same. We gave examples of how the loud noises and lights bother him and can result in meltdowns, that this is just a part of who he is and most of all, how they could help Kian with these struggles. We asked them that next time they see any kid, not just Kian having a meltdown, to stop and think about why that might be happening, maybe they don’t have control and what they really need is their compassion. We talked about bullying and how it is much “cooler” to intervene than to involve themselves in the bullying. To wrap it up, we talked about watching out for others who may have a disability that doesn’t include a cane or a wheelchair and how they can really make a difference in a life with concern and love. I guess time will only tell which path will be chosen.
The great part of this process was seeing some of these kids come up to us afterwards and talk to us. One little girl came up to us and said, “I just love Kian, I don’t know why kids pick on him”. I know that these are just words, but it goes to show that some of our kids have a great deal of compassion
for others; true, genuine compassion. Maybe if we all start advocacy at a younger age, more kids will grow to be adults with the same compassion. Maybe by growing up with compassion, awareness and acceptance will go hand in hand and make each of our jobs that much easier.