Some months ago I had the privilege of meeting an unforgettable 6th-grade girl. My substitute assignment that day was going into classrooms for approximately 30 minutes and working with 1 to 3 students in the class who had special needs. She and I had something in common – autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
This student was new to the school. She didn’t say a word to me or engage in any conversation with the students at her table. Since she was following the teacher’s instructions, I knew she understood what was being said. The class assignment was to draw a picture of their favorite story character. She went right to work on it without needing any encouragement from me. This alone made her an unusual student since most students I worked with needed at least some elbow nudging.
I watched her bring life to her favorite character, Wee Willie Wonka, on paper. I was in awe of observing her giving her character shape and color. Her finished product for a 6th grader was amazing! Those working at the table with her did well in their drawings but hers was a masterpiece.
The teacher came by and asked me how it was going. I pointed to the student’s drawing and the teacher was stricken with amazement. It was the first time she had seen a sample of her new student’s artwork. To be fair to the teacher, this was not an art class. It probably did surprise the teacher that this quiet student possessed such an extraordinary ability to draw a character as precise as she did.
The teacher was so impressed that she showed off the student’s drawing of Wee Willie Wonka to the entire class. Some of the students were not surprised. They had seen samples of her artwork and knew the new kid on the block was an exceptional drawer. The 6th grader took all the attention in stride. No bows or high 5’s. She remained in her chair and just smiled a little bit.
It seems to me that autism is a double edged sword. One one hand, there’s the dark side of fear, anxiety, sensory issues, meltdowns, shutdowns, etc. On the other hand, the bright side of skill and talent(s) that one can put to use to be of help to others and to enjoy the sweet taste of success just like anybody else.
This child has the ability to create something beautiful on paper. I hope that she continues to put that talent to use and will one day enjoy the sweet taste of success and perhaps smile a bit more.