I'm in tears, I truly am. This morning was my first time speaking to students in four months and the nerves leading up to it were immense. I haven't been this nervous for a presentation in quite some time, but once I began I felt at ease. Due to the size of the 6th grade I gave two presentations, but while I could talk about my presentation and what I said that isn't the relevant factor here as it's what the students ask that gives me chills and faith in the future.
When I present to students I give a brief 20-25 minute presentation. Afterwards comes questions and one of them stuck out when asked, "When was autism and Asperger's first truly being diagnosed because you said you got diagnosed at the age of 20?" This is a question I have never been asked before and was more than glad to answer. Another question asked, by a student in the front row of about 200 kids, asked, "Is is true people on the autism spectrum dislike change?" to which I gave him my motto, "Change is bad" which led into a story.
What also is neat about my presentations is that, if one student tries to talk to another about something that I think is unrelated (I come to that conclusion by the result) the other students sort of nudges the other and points my direction with a look of direct attention.
I am given so much hope by these students. Being a public speaker, especially in the field I am in, leads to a big sense of pressure. I feel as if each time I speak I have the chance to change the world for at least one person. Maybe I'm overselling my position and what I do, I don't know, but it feels that way. Even more so when one of the last questions asked, "Have you ever been bullied?"
The bully factor is high for those on the autism spectrum and in the past I gave this story from 2011. However, when asked this earlier today I recounted the story of my terror on the 10th tee box and while I was telling this story the room was as still as if no one were in there. In that two minute story there was no sound or movement outside myself. And I expressed my feelings of feeling small, meaningless, and irrelevant there were tears from some of the students as well as from some of the teachers.
I firmly believe that presentations to students in the most vital aspect of my job. It could be argued that speaking to parents, or perhaps police officers are, but I feel if we want to change the future and make it a brighter place for those on the spectrum the focus should be in schools and students and this was reinforced with the response from my stories, and the tears from my terror on the 10th tee box.
As I concluded one student came up to me and said, "Excuse me, may I ask you a question?" to which I responded with, "certainly" and he asked, "Yeah, but after listening to you I'm wondering if you've ever thought this; have you ever thought that maybe you're the normal one and those not on the spectrum are the odd ones?" It was asked with such innocence and purity that I had a hard time answering it and a teacher beside was obviously blown away by it.
I should be used to this by now, but each time I enter the realm of a school, and present, I always left with a sense of awe and faith in the future.