Posted on August 26th, 2015 by Aaron Likens
Teaching a student with Asperger’s [Autism Spectrum Disorder] may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, because you can go above and beyond the call of duty and the student with Asperger’s may not be able to even say as much as ‘Thank you.'”
It’s not that people on the autism spectrum have “no emotions.” We do have emotions, but getting from that part where we experience those feelings to that part where we can express how we feel can be like trying to travel down the interstate with many brick walls lining the route. And for a teacher, I’m sure this can be deflating.
I know a high school teacher who had a student with Asperger’s. This person was really the first teacher that this student had ever clicked with. The student and this teacher communicated well together and the student made many strides forward. The student’s ability to learn was unparalleled in subsequent schooling years. But when graduation time came, and this student with Asperger’s was asked to acknowledge the teacher who influenced them the most and changed their life, the teacher chosen was shocked and unprepared for the announcement. “I can’t believe it’s me! I did nothing!” the teacher exclaimed.
What happened? On the surface this may seem like an act of defiance. But as it is with so many other things regarding Asperger’s, there’s much more than meets the eye.
First off, going back to my opening of this post, saying things such as “thank you” isn’t our strong suit. Actually, anything that would have us associate with emotions can be a no-go. Standing in front of a room to proclaim that a person changed their life, motivated them, or helped them? That’d be exposing a lot of one’s self.
So how would a person with Asperger’s solve this conundrum? Well, this particular student did it by choosing the teacher that did the least, because, logically, that eliminated the emotional component of the moment.
Graduation itself can be difficult for a person with Asperger’s, as it is a major life change. I’ve learned in my own life that as more and more stuff is on my mind, my ability to express emotions decreases greatly. I salute teachers that have made this big of a difference in any student’s life, but I know that when it comes to the autism spectrum, a response of gratitude may not be given.
So as this new school year begins, I want all you teachers to know that you really do go above and beyond the call of duty, and many of you are sure to truly be life changers to students on the autism spectrum. Our ability to say “thank you” in person or in front of a room may not be there, but I can assure you the emotions are there.
I can imagine that the teacher I talked about in this post was left to wonder why they weren’t picked as a student’s favorite teacher. It is equally, if not more, difficult to be the individual who wants to simply say, “thank you! Thank you for believing in me! Thank you for giving me a chance when no one else did!”
I feel bad that I was never able to fully thank my 2nd and 4th grade teachers for the seeds they planted that have allowed me to become who I am today. I probably seemed unappreciative, but underneath it all I was appreciative, and am. So I’m saying it now. Thank you, teachers. Thank you all.
Note from Easter Seals: Although Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis, and kids are diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Aaron was diagnosed before this diagnostic change. It’s what he is comfortable discussing, so we leave this term, and the blog, in his voice. Learn more about autism terms.