Yesterday was an amazing day! I was in Nevada, Missouri (NOTE: should you ever go there it isn't pronounced as the state, but rather Ne-vay-da) and got the chance to speak at the high school, middle school, and to the 3rd through 5th grade. The first presentation, in the morning, was to the high school and I was thrilled as the students filled both sides of the gym.
It's a good thing I now have no fear of public speaking because, as this picture shows, I was truly surrounded:
I could make this blog all about me and proclaim what an accomplishment it was to deliver my presentation to them, but that's not the story at all. For me, the story is the response in the questions. While I'm giving my school presentation, which is just about 20-25 minutes, and I'm so far away from everyone else at center court, I have no idea if the words I am saying are having any impact at all, or if they're even listening to me at all.
After 20 minutes I opened it up for questions and this, for a speaker, is a scary time because if no hands go up the speaker is sort of stranded with no where really to go (or hide.) Thankfully, there were hands and the first question was, "What's your favorite color?" That may seem like an odd question to ask, but this let me know this student had heard what I had said because I tell the students that, "When I was younger I could talk about facts all day long, but if you asked anything subjective, such as favorite color or song, I would lock up." I gave my answer in jest saying, "You know, I've been told it's fun to watch me squirm so, well, my favorite color is... ... ... I'm going to cheat and say it's the color of my shirt today which means tomorrow my favorite color will be different."
From that a multitude of hands came up and the next question was, "Does Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory have Asperger's?" My answer was, "I get that question a lot and I did some research and pretty much the entire world agrees that he does; that is except the writers of the show who simply call it Sheldonism, but the only people who believe that are the writers themselves."
I then got questions on the causes of autism, and the rates of autism, and then I got a streak of questions looking at the positive of it. This was new for me as this is something that typically parents ask, but this one girl straight up asked, "Okay, you spoke of the difficulties, but what are some of the strengths?" I was caught off guard as I was so amazed at this question. I gave an answer that had a lot of words but I don't know if I answered it with the purity and without the clutter that I gave. I said something along the lines of, "Yes, there are many strengths. I know my conviction to always stick to my beliefs, ethics, and morals are a big strength. Some may see that as a weakness as I critique every rule break, but I'm bound to do the right thing. Also, my writing ability, I fully believe, comes from having it as I have no formal training to be a writer. And even more so, my ability to present. You may find this odd, but this is the easiest thing I do, this speaking to you today." I continued on trying to find the perfect way to describe it, and maybe I did, but I don't feel I gave that question justice.
From there I took another question and this student stood up, and announced he had Asperger's, and asked what might be the most profound question I've been asked, "There's lots of talk about what Asperger's is; is it a syndrome, a condition, a disease, or is it, like I believe, a difference so I'd like to get your opinion on it." This was a hard question to answer; not because I had to find an answer, but because I was so moved by it. I know, as I started my answer, I was smiling greatly as it was an honor to be able to answer that and I said something along the lines of, "If you ask each person on the spectrum this I'm sure you'll get a different answer. In fact, myself, a little less than 10 years ago I would have told you it was a disease, this awful thing, but now I firmly believe it is simply a difference. But here's the thing; everyone is different but our difference just has a name with it. But yes, everyone is different and I used to chase normal but here's the thing about normal; I don't believe it exists and if it does, and we find that one normal person in the world, congratulations as we have found the most boring human in the universe." I continued on about the accomplishments of those figures in history who some thing might have had Asperger's and I built upon the "What are the strengths?" question and said that we on the autism spectrum often times will think outside the box and see things different and this may lead to progression, or invention.
The thing about these presentations, no matter how much time I have be it 30 minutes to two hours, is that they're over way too fast. When time was up I still had dozens of hands up and after the presentation students did walk up to shake my hand, to say thank you, and to ask a question they didn't get a chance to ask. While, as I said, a speaker in center court like I was has a hard time knowing if the audience is listening I knew, afterwards, that there was no mistaking the fact that my message was heard, received, and it was obvious a new level of understanding was reached. I started by saying I could've made this post about myself, and proclaimed how much bravery and skill it takes to take center court, but the real story here is the thirst for knowledge. Time and time again I am impressed beyond words the compassion and purity of the questions from students and yesterday, driving home, I was moved to tears thinking about all who I spoke to, and the unwavering desire to know more by those students.