A child sitting alone with his back to the other children playing is hardly a rare sighting on my job as a teacher’s aide. Even if an adult comes along and encourages the child to turn around and join in, the adult will meet strong resistance. I empathize with the outsider because I have decades of experience of being one. Although I now have been diagnosed with autism giving me an explanation for my extreme shyness, I’m still content to maintain my corner spot.
When doing a P.E. substitute assignment where I will see every member of the student body at some point during the school day, I keep an eye out for the invisible child whether it be one who is autistic, or have other mental or physical challenges, or is seen as being different by any host of reasons. I can’t force them out to the center, but I can let them know they aren’t invisible to me.
At an after-school gathering, I observed from a distance a child who lives on the same spectrum as I. He found his corner in the gym, several inches away from the nearest child. With his back turned from the others, he kept his hands busy by touching the wall around him. I went over and said hi and his name. He made eye contact but he didn’t answer back. I didn’t expect him to. I just felt the need to say hi to let him know I saw him.
I wish I could do more for him. I keep him in my prayers. I understand the noise is bothering him. I understand he’d rather be by himself in a smaller space instead of a gym floor surrounded by children who have a healthy set of lungs and are wearing them out. But I have to keep my distance since I’m not one of his after school teachers.
Just the other day I saw him again. He was having a good day. He had come for P.E. and came up to me and gave me a big hug. That was a priceless moment! Maybe he somehow senses I am more like him than others. I kept my eye on him during P.E. That’s just what those on the spectrum do. Watch out for one another.
He is often a child alone, but he is as much somebody as the child who isn’t.