People with Autism are different, not less.

English: A boy with autism.

English: A boy with autism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was some free time at the end of class one afternoon.  When the students in the Autism Unit (AU) at Summit Academy in Youngstown, OH, have behaved well they are sometimes afforded a few minutes of down time before changing classes.  Mike* had been arm wrestling everyone he could find and had run out of competitors.

“Mr. Knick,” he asked, “do you wanna arm wrestle me?”

I don’t like to turn the kids down if they want me to participate in what they are doing.  So I obliged.

After about a minute of holding steady, I decided to tease him a little.  He had beaten everyone in class and was talkin’ a little trash, all in good fun.  I was sure he must have been tired having arm wrestled so much.  So I suggesting to our onlookers that someone ask me what time it was.  When one of them did, I abruptly pinned Mike’s hand to the table, looked at the wrist of my arm-wrestling hand (that didn’t actually have a watch on it), and declared, “It’s about 3 o’clock.”

Everyone, including Mike, laughed.

English: Temple Grandin at a book signing at R...

English: Temple Grandin at a book signing (Wikipedia)

Drew, another new friend of mine in the class, remarked how unexpected that was.  I agreed, “Yeah, I’ll bet you never would have guessed that I work out at the gym a couple of times a week by looking at me, would you?’

“No,” he replied candidly, “not in a million years.”

Ha!  The cool thing is that he didn’t mean it as an insult.  It’s what he thought, so he said it.  I find that refreshing in so many ways, even despite the occasional slam.  I’ve discovered that there can be tidbits of wisdom derived from their perspectives that tend to escape the rest of us.  And it helped me to think from another perspective that, I’m ashamed to say, I often don’t consider.

So often it seems like God doesn’t know what he’s doing.  While waiting for God and working toward launching our new church I’m working part time as Pastor of Outreach at Evangel Baptist – where I’ll still be after the new church launches – and working as a substitute at Summit.  My pal Ryan Hart works there and put in a good word for me.  I’ve been assigned mostly to the AU program because a teacher there has been on maternity leave.  After being unsure about God’s purpose in my current circumstances, it has occurred to me many times since that God is the best one for his job.

There are always two teachers in the classroom.  Michelle Walsh is the teacher that I’ve been working with, and it’s been a blast.  We often chat about how honest the kids are, and what a joy it is to work with them.  And we laugh . . . a lot.

I knew very little about Autism before I started working there.  Watch the movie about Temple Grandin if you want to know more.  In the movie, her mother advises, “Remember, you are different, not less.”  They relate to world differently than most of us and, as the movie shows, what they say can be grossly misclassified as ignorance.

During my first week the kids had to fill out a mock job application.  Josh had stopped at the blank where he was supposed to fill in his race.  I explained that he is African-American.  He looked puzzled and noted that he wasn’t from Africa, so I continued, “That’s another way to say black. You can write down either one.  I am Anglo-American, or white.”

He looked a friend of the same race sitting across the table, “Are you African-American too?”

“I guess so,” Braylon replied.

Then Josh uttered one of those things that makes me believe he is actually thinking on a higher level than most of us.  He pouted, “I wish we didn’t have to be African or Anglo-American.  I wish I could just be American.”

What could I say?  I smiled at him and replied, “Well put, Josh.  I’m with you on that one.”

People with Autism aren’t less, just different . . . and often times different is better.

* These aren’t the real names of the students.  I had a pretty cool picture I couldn’t use either.


6 thoughts on “People with Autism are different, not less.

  1. LOVE this post! It’s been another one of those times that God filled the need (a job) with something really great that you would never have experienced otherwise. You are just where He needs you for right now! I love hearing about these kids.

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  3. They tell me I’ve Aspbergers and that is why I have such a hard time letting my past behind me. I write that helps. /shrug I always though my different was good and bad. At times I see things so clear when others are stumped and others I say something wrong and someone gets horrible offended,

    • My wife has read that most people are on the Asperbers/autism scale, though the majority are very mild. I’ve heard that a difference between austism and asbergers is that Aspies notice that they are different even if they don’t understand why. You should read more on it because it may enlighten you a bit more about your struggles.

      • Oh I know why I am different. I lack some emotional queues, I think differently; I am very black and white and think very logical. The true test for noticing is sometimes a question seeking earnest answer can be misunderstood, sometimes my ridged way of thinking or very tight vision on right and wrong demonstrates my differences. Sometimes it manifests in my nature as I am a creature of habit. Things need to be as they should be and everything in its place. Sometimes it’s just because I was born deaf that makes me different.

        Either way my struggles aren’t with my differences they are with moving forward from past issues. Your blog is not the place to discuss those. This is a very positive and uplifting place. I come here because the messages are bright, upbeat and bring some light into my shades of black. Should you wish a look into an abyss feel free to peek in on my blog but it’s not light and bright like this one. I like reading yours.

        Keep writing I will keep reading. Perhaps some healing is found in places we least expect.

      • Wow, lots of how you just described yourself are aspects of Aspergers, in my brief understanding of it.

        I’ve been to your blog. Mine may be upbeat (though not always), but yours definitely has a place. After all, being upbeat is meaningless unless you’ve struggled enough with what is real and still manage to come away with at lease a semblance of hope. You have great insight on your blog, Michelle.

        However, I will take your well-intentioned cue and focus on the positive – at least for this post.

        Thanks again, Michelle. You’re always welcome at my blog.

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