64: Student Teacher

64: Student Teacher

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Student Teacher

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

~Winston Churchill

When you hear the diagnosis Asperger syndrome, a million things go through your mind: Will my child be independent? How will he do in school? Will he be able to socialize with his peers?

David had been diagnosed not long before he started kindergarten and we had explained to him that just like every child, he had strengths and he had challenges. We let him know that he wasn’t disabled, he was differently-abled, as was everyone in some way or another. He accepted that information, like all other information, and saved it for later use. The first day of school, David asked his teacher, “You mean the rest of these kids can’t read?” He decided that this must be their challenge and he decided to help them work on it.

He became the teacher’s youngest assistant, reading to small groups of children so that she and the adult teaching assistant could work with others. He could be a great help in class and the children didn’t seem to mind that this very serious, very kind, very adult-acting child sometimes stimmed. For them, that was just David.

Of course, that’s not to say that all his instruction was helpful. One day, I got a call from Barbara, his teacher, who was trying to keep from cracking up. David had apparently decided to teach a class in biology in the back of the school bus and explain to his classmates where babies came from. When the kids got off the bus they strolled into class suddenly knowing all the medically correct words for all the body parts and the procedures. (We had bought an older children’s book with the correct terminology because he was asking questions. David had taken it upon himself to read ahead and share with the class.)

Not knowing whether to be proud or mortified, I asked, “Well, did he get all the terms right?”

“He did a better job explaining the science of birth than my freshman college professor did, although he did get one term wrong.”

“Which one?”

“Can you let him know when he gets home, it’s not the Filipino tubes?”

That night, we gave David a talk on what subjects students should teach, what subjects teachers should teach, and what is reserved for parents to teach.

Thankfully, that small stumbling block didn’t deter him from helping his fellow students with their challenges. Before they called his name to get his eighth grade diploma, he was recognized for starting a student tutoring program in middle school. When they called his name, my son, who I had worried would not be independent and would not be accepted for having Asperger’s, received a standing ovation from his fellow students.

By helping others deal with their challenges, David had shown them how to accept his.

And when they asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer was clear and proud — “I’m going to be a teacher!”

~René Thompson

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