Posted on April 27th, 2015 by Aaron Likens
As Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, I can’t help but write one more post about what an honor it is to be invited to schools to educate kids about autism. It is so gratifying to make kids more aware of what it is like to be on the spectrum, and the response I get to my presentations is truly magical.
And to think that I protested the first time I had the chance to present. Oh, I was scared. Scared because what could I say to a fifth grader that would make sense? Scared? Very much so. My protests were futile, however. I was told I was doing it (and they were right to say that to me).
It was a rocky start. Before I began my first ever presentation, I turned to the teacher and whispered, “Help!” She responded that I should start by explaining what, exactly, autism and Asperger’s is. Great idea, but I didn’t know what to say.
Then, a student in the middle of the classroom rose his hand and said, “Excuse me, but, if I’m not mistaken, isn’t autism and Asperger’s just a different way of perceiving the world around you?” There was this hush after that. I was taken aback. And then I responded, “Hey, you want my job?”
From there it’s just grown and grown. It started with classrooms and now I’ll speak to entire student bodies. And the questions, oh my, I wish you could see it! You’d be shocked by their frame of reference.
Someone usually will ask the question in the Q&A section of, “How many people have autism?” Before I answer I ask, “How many people here know someone, or knows someone that knows someone, with autism?” It never fails that at least 75% of the student body raise their hands.
In that moment, awareness and understanding is thrust into overdrive. They realize that autism isn’t something that is isolated to a cousin, a sibling, an uncle. It’s something much more prevalent.
After that, the level of compassion, empathy, and truly wanting answers is evident in the way the questions are asked. I always leave these presentations with a smile on my face and true hope for the future. I believe that if we want to truly change the world we have to reach the future. What better way to do that than to speak to tomorrow’s future?