Saturday, April 22, 2006


Yesterday I spent my day meeting with high school seniors who will be starting college in fall, helping them choose the courses they'll take in their first semester. I love this day - the energy, the excitement, the enthusiasm - and I love the variety of students who choose to come to our small college.

My last appointment was with Rob, a bright, engaging young man who came with his dad. He's starting college without a major, but has a lot of interests he'd like to pursue - psychology, maybe; or sports management; perhaps business. He's good at math, though this year's grades wouldn't necessarily reflect that; he attributes that more to Senioritis than ability.

I looked down at the registration form he'd come in with. A note from the Registrar instructed us to schedule four classes for Rob's first semester, instead of the traditional five. I launched into a lengthy monologue about the college's liberal education requirements and the options he had. Rob listened politely, but when I stopped speaking and turned the conversation over to him I was met with silence - not awkward silence; just the sort of silence that indicated that Rob had nothing to say.


I started over, with just the first chunk of information. And then I started to pick up on cues that made Rob more and more familiar to me. There was something about the way he looked at me as he spoke - or, more accurately, about the way he didn't look at me. Something about the cadence of his speech. Something in the subtle flick of his hand. Something that made me want to say, "Hey, Rob, I think I know you."

We tackled our task systematically, one step at a time. While Rob took some time to look over course options on his own, I chatted with his Dad.

"I wonder if you can tell me about the learning services you have here," his dad said. "Rob has ADD and - halting pause - another learning disability."

I filled in the blank on my own.

We talked about the services at the academic development center, and about the college's commitment to working with students as individuals, making the accommodations that will help them to be successful. Rob finished looking at his choices and we went back to a very successful concrete sequential scheduling session.

As I worked with Rob and his dad, I found myself wanting to ask the same question I always want to ask the students I know who are (or who appear to be) on the spectrum: "Can you tell me what you were like when you were six years old?"

But, as always, I kept my question to myself. Yesterday was Rob's day to look forward, not back. But I couldn't help looking forward myself. What will Bud be like at eighteen?

I imagine that Rob has faced a lot of obstacles as he has made his way to this place, where he is a high school senior full of promise, ready to take on college life.

I hope he doesn't spend too much of his energy dwelling on his struggle and is instead able to focus on his success.

I hope he knows that yesterday he made someone think, "I hope my son grows up to be just like you."


kristina said...

I felt just the same when as AS student sent me an email telling me he was on the spectrum---and the paper he wrote for me (a research paper about, yes, autism that intermixed autobiography) made me, yes, tear up.

So you'll be the student's advisor?

Ah serendipity.

Unknown said...

Cool story. It sounded like the dad is ashamed of his son being on the spectrum? That would be a shame.

Wendy said...

I find myself wanting to know what other ASD kids were like when they were 2 or 3 (my C's age). Always I look for glimpses of him when I read personal accounts of children with autism, hoping for some insight into C's future.

Your post made me tear up. I'm not sure why. I think it's because autism just seems to *everywhere* these days. Every magazine I open has an article on it, so many newscasts have stories on it. It is affecting so many people. WHY?

Mamaroo said...

A few tears dropped here while reading this. I always find myself wondering what Roo will be like at 18. I am sure just as amazing as he is today. "One day at a time", right?

MOM-NOS said...

Joseph, I didn't get the sense that his dad was ashamed at all - much the contrary, actually. I think it's just that I was an unknown to them and he was being tentative with me, concerned that too much disclosure might put negative impressions in my mind. Or it may be that he saw it as Rob's decision to disclose or not.

Zilari said...

How serendipitous that a person who is most likely on the spectrum would get the chance to be "advised" by someone who is personally familiar with such things.

I often wonder, when I read these blogs, what the children being discussed are going to be like when they are older. Guessing is extremely difficult, however, there is certainly every reason to be optimistic -- we all develop, despite some of us developing more unevenly than others.

Often times, people on the spectrum find ways of doing things that nobody could possibly have anticipated we would.

gretchen said...

Thanks for sharing this. It obviously touched many of us.

About a year ago I remember Henry's speech advisor telling me about an ASD child she knew who was going off to college. At that point in Henry's behavior, I could hardly imagine him having that much success in his education. But now I can.

How did you keep yourself from hugging Rob?! :-)