What I Wish My Teachers Understood About Autism Day #5: Alex's Story
I Wish My Teachers Understood that I was Capable of More.
To quote Dr. Temple Grandin, “there needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do”. In June of every year there are so many proud parents of young adults who, after many years, are finally completing their high school education and graduate. Several of those students have overcome many hardships to graduate and parents, educators and the students themselves get a chance to celebrate what they have accomplished.
When Alex was diagnosed with autism, the prognosis was “you should not expect too much”. We were told Alex would likely have “difficulties in school, probably not graduate and have several behavioural issues”. I suppose that is part of providing any prognosis (having to consider the worst case scenario) since no one knows what lies ahead or how much effort and time parents and others will put into doing everything they can to do the best for their child.
One of the happiest days of our lives was the day Alex graduated from high school with his diploma. “Probably not graduate?” So much for that prognosis! The joy I felt that day did not come however from the piece of paper Alex received, it came from something else.
Alex participated in the convocation with all of his fellow classmates in June of 2011. There must have been over 200 in the graduating class that year. Alex was part of an amazing high school with a program for Autism Spectrum Disorder (‘ASD”) kids, which provided an integrated and supportive setting (yes there are great programs in our school system and some incredible and dedicated teachers and staff). We were certainly blessed.
Alex and the other two ASD students had practiced over and over again what would happen at convocation – where they would sit, who they would sit with and what they had to do. Since the students were called up in alphabetical order, there were kids they didn’t know very well beside them. These students were asked to help out with prompts so the ASD students would know when to go up on stage and how to receive their diplomas. I can imagine these students were nervous enough themselves but happily agreed to help.
I remember my greatest fear was that Alex would become so restless and agitated (it is a very long time to sit) that he might just get up and leave. If he did make it through, at least up to the “G” names, as he walked on stage he would yell out “Cleveland Rocks” or re-enact a scene from a movie where kids graduate and do something crazy like frisbee their graduation cap into the audience or worse (I will leave this to your imagination). None of these things happened. What did happen, however, was quite a surprise.
As each student’s name was called, there were shout outs and cheers and clapping. We were waiting patiently through all the students, “A through F”, and finally they began calling the “G” surnames. At this point my heart was pounding. Then, it was down to two students before Alex was to go up and we (Zoe, Vern and I) were nervous wrecks. I kept thinking please don’t yell something out or start dancing. Please don’t high five Father Dave (although Father Dave was pretty cool so that might have been okay).
I watched Alex approach the bottom of the stage. He waited for the student in front of him to be called. The student behind him then prompted him to go forward and up the stairs as his name was called. Amazingly, Alex walked up shook the principal’s hand, shook Father Dave’s hand and shook the vice principal’s hand and now had his diploma in hand with the biggest smile on his face. He did it! I was so relieved. Now my eyes were full of tears. I was so proud of what he had accomplished but also moved by what happened as Alex walked across the stage. As he went up on stage and his name was called there was the loudest eruption of clapping and cheering from the students and the entire group of teachers rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation. I then watched them repeat this for each of the ASD students.
That moment is forever in my mind. It reminds me that it is not what these children and adults cannot do …it is what they can do. Congratulations to all students graduating this June especially those on the spectrum. Many thanks to all the supportive teachers, students and staff who fostered the potential in those students with ASD. Let’s celebrate what they can do and share in that spirit of recognition with standing ovations!