I’d like to tell you a story - a story about a little boy that changed my life. I will call him Nick. I was paired to work with Nick at a summer program. I was fresh out of college and had my Elementary Education & Special Education degrees under my belt. Mo bosses warned me that Nick could be difficult to work with. Nick was seven years old and Nick was autistic. I hate to give him that label because he truly was like every other little boy at summer camp. He loved to swim, he loved to play ball, and he loved to swing on the swings. He hated art, but I am going to be honest with you, I hate art too. So Nick & I got along swimmingly. My first day with Nick is one that I will never forget. Our summer camp was located at a place that had a sweet playground. Nick LOVED the playground. Nick ran up to the playground and went straight for an innocent girl with blonde curls that was using the swing he wanted. He didn’t know how to wait for his turn. He didn’t know how to communicate what he wanted to me. So, he yanked her blonde curls and she shrieked. Her mother was mortified and immediately asked, “what is wrong with that kid?” I immediately grew angry. I took a deep breath and then I replied, “there is nothing wrong with him and we apologize that this happened, we are truly sorry”. I will stand by my response until the day that I die. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Nick. God dealt Nick a different hand. His mother and I have discussed this many times. Nick cannot handle overstimulation. I can relate. Nick and I have never had a real conversation – this is a defining trait of autism. These amazing individuals are not the best communicators, they won’t look you in the eye, they won’t pick up on verbal cues, they will take everything you say extremely literal, and they will be the most exceptional, wonderful humans you will come across in your life. I hope you come across them. They will change your life and your outlook – just like they have for me. It took about a week for Nick to feel comfortable with me, for Nick to trust me. Just like it would with any new person in any child’s life. At times, I would have to restrain Nick when he was uncontrollable. He loved it. I was giving him the biggest hugs and he loved hugs. My friends and family will tell you – I am not a hugger. But something about these hugs from this little man made my summer one that I will cherish forever and ever. There were days he would pee his pants on purpose because he did not want to hike up to the creek. Nick is a genius. He outsmarted me on many occasions. I loved it. I will never forget when Nick told me that he loved me, he said, “I love you, (insert my first & last name)”. To this day, he calls me by my first & last name. He’s seriously the coolest. He’s grown up into an exceptional young man. He’s doing so well. I couldn’t be more proud. I get messages from his mom from time to time – they always have a simple message – Nick says, “I love you, (insert my first & last name)”. The fact that he still talks about me to his family after all these years makes me smile from ear to ear.
Thank you for taking the time to read this & for supporting Listen, Lucy. It’s about time we share some good in this world! Please smile and say hello to families that are out & about with kids with special needs. Make them feel accepted. The acceptance movement does not discriminate! I know that every minute that I spend with these individuals are the best moments of my day. They are amazing. I can’t say that enough. They’ve just been dealt a different hand. But hey, haven’t we all been dealt a different hand?
Now, I have a favor to ask of you Listen, Lucy readers. On April 2nd, the Autism Awareness Society asks that we “Light it up Blue”. I know that my coworkers & I will be sporting our blue to support our students who have Autism. We’re making it a school-wide thing. We’re attempting to make our school all about kindness & acceptance – the way this world should be! This initiative goes on all across the world. Prominent buildings will be lit up blue. Join the movement. Wear your blue & show the world your support. Let’s raise awareness and acceptance. Take some selfies or group shots on April 2nd of you & your friends, coworkers, and/or families in their blue and hashtag your pics – #lightitupblue. I know it will mean the world to these individuals that are, most definitely, nothing short of amazing."