It was only months ago that a 12-year-old girl had a profound impact on my life. She helped solve a big part of the mystery of why I act, feel, and think as I do. She cannot utter my name or even her own. I could tell her my story and its impact but even if she could understand what I was saying, she couldn’t carry on a conversation with me about it.
Occasionally, I get to see her and her classmates when I fill in for a teacher’s aide at her school. I recently helped out the P.E. coach who was without his sidekick. The coach told me that the special ed teacher had a surprise for me.
She had a special gift. It was a t-shirt with the words: “AUTISM AWARENESS accept-understand-love”.
At the time I was diagnosed, I had confided in this teacher and her aides about my diagnosis and how their student was the one who sort of brought me out of the closet. Their student, in other words, was the lightning rod. The staff was so supportive in those days and weeks after my diagnosis. I was touched beyond words of being given this gift and they being the ones to give it to me.
I wasted no time! I did a quick change at lunch and wore one of them with PRIDE! I subbed a few days later for this class and was told to wear one of the shirts. The teacher, her two aides, and myself were all decked out in our “Autism” shirts.
I intend for these shirts to get a lot of wear. One reason is just for “awareness” to those I may cross paths with. Another is maybe it’ll help deliver the message to skeptics around me that this isn’t a phase I’m going through and that I’ll eventually get off my autism soap box. Or, my being on the autism spectrum is some foolish notion on my part.
I shouldn’t focus on the skepticism, but the support I received from people like this teacher and her staff. I will cherish these shirts and the words written on front; and, most of all, the people in this story, including the 12-year-old who was the lighthouse to my finally arriving at the shore of my diagnosis.