How did yesterday go? I must admit I was grade "A" nervous. What does this mean? I got to the school almost an hour early and I spent 40 minutes in my car thinking. What would I say? How would I say it? I would be going without a PowerPoint so I had to be sure to make words fluid. But what would I say? I kept asking that, what would I say? I was beginning to think myself in a frenzy.
I eventually walked into the office and thankfully and took a seat. I was told the class was at lunch so it would be a bit. This gave me more time to think and the impact of this upcoming presentation grew and grew because if I talk to just one class, say, 25 kids how many people will those kids eventually touch and what would just one ounce of understanding now grow into? The nerves were now at full speed.
As 11:30 neared a teacher came and got me and informed me that the students would be filling the library for the presentation... all 300 of them. I said, "What?" and she replied, "Oh, you weren't told? Yeah, 300. Do you need anything?" I tried to think of something sarcastic to say to if I needed anything but I was in a near panic as we turned the corner and there they were, the students of the 6th grade.
My feeling at this point in time was just like my first presentation, except this was a bit worse as I knew how much was riding on this. The ability to touch this many people and expand the definition of autism understanding, let alone giving this to the future, is a rare chance and I knew I could no blow this chance.
Despite a few minutes of waiting among some teachers and the mass of students filing into the library I was alone. I was completely alone and lost in thought. I've never have and never will know what this feels like, but I'm sure I was experiencing the same emotions a sports star feels like before a championship game.
It was time. I took the podium and began the same way I do every presentation, "Hello, I'm Aaron Likens and I serve as Autism Ambassador for TouchPoint Autism Services and also author of the book Finding Kansas." After that I did a hybrid presentation skimming over different aspects of my presentation trying to make each point as clear as relevant as possible.
This presentation was scheduled for an hour and at the 25 minute mark I thought I was going down. When giving a new presentation, or rather one that isn't the norm, it is hard to gauge if what I was saying was making any impact at all. I was fearing my words were falling silent and making no impact.
At the top of the hour, with half an hour to go, I decided to open the floor for questions. This is always a scary turn because, if no one asks anything, what do I say? I was about as frightful as I have ever been in a presentation, but then a hand when up and they asked, "Was it easier or harder for you after you got diagnosed?" Say what?! With a gigantic smile, I replied.
Obviously my words were heard and the following 30 minutes was sheer magic. "How hard is it for parents?" "Is it true boys are diagnosed more?" "Are you happy having it?" "Can a person out grow it?" "Can a person with autism or Asperger's have a job, or a family?" and the most magical question of all, and I don't remember exactly so I won't put it in quotation marks, but this girl used my vocabulary and mentioned Kansas.
The final 30 minutes went by too fast. It isn't too often in life that something this magical occurs. And I say too fast because after each question I had two to three dozen hands up wanting to ask a question. The thirst for knowledge was undeniable and the level of understanding in the questions just kept growing and growing.
With a few minutes to go I was trying everything I could not to shake or get teary-eyed. I knew that what I said was heard. I knew that those there wanted to know more and with that knowledge comes understanding. And with understanding comes the chance for a better life for those on the spectrum.
It was such an honor to be able to speak to that 6th grade and having their attention for the full hour and knowing that they wanted to learn everything has given me so much hope. I have no idea who or what those students will become. Some may be a teacher, others might become a doctor, or a researcher, or maybe a psychologist. Whatever and whomever they become I hope my words are never lost on them. Those 300 are going to touch many people across their lives and those will touch more and then it branches out to an unimaginable level. Each of those though, after 12:30 yesterday, left with a better understanding of the autism spectrum and should they have a person in their grade, or class, I think that they're going to better understand them and, as I said, it was such an honor to be able to stand up there, in front of all 300 kids while being as nervous as I've ever been, and be able to share with them all my words, my stories, and to give them a glimpse into the autism spectrum. With their response I know, without a doubt, the future is bright.