Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Aaron vs. 5th Graders

The title of this post is how I saw it when the presentation began; it was me versus them. To say the beginning was awkward would be selling this situation well short.

What was this presentation? I was at an elementary school for a 50-minute presentation about what Asperger’s and autism is and my experiences with it. This came about from a request by a parent whose child in the class who also has Asperger’s Syndrome like myself.

The day before I gave a presentation to 57 police officers. As I began my speaking career, I thought this to be the most daunting of crowds, but that presentation the other day was awesome. This one, on the other hand, was like looking at Mount Everest and expecting to climb it without ever having climbed any other mountian. This is the essence of fear in terms of public speaking.

So there I was, Aaron vs. 5th graders, and words were not coming. I'm used to a PowerPoint, but I had none. Also, I don't think I'm great around kids. Maybe it's not that I'm not good, but I don't change my words, or ways, and I stay my stiff self. Anyway, it took a couple words from the other TouchPoint staff member that was with me to get me going and I explained who I was, what I do, and then the teacher of the class suggested that I explain what, exactly, autism is. This is when the magic began.

I know how to explain it to a parent, a doctor, or even a teacher, but what do I say to a 5th grader? I began explaining it and then a student raised a hand and said, "I believe it is that your brain processes information differently, right?" I was taken aback, what I was trying to explain in simple terms was explained back to me flawlessly. The magic continued.

Slowly the ice melted and a conversational tone began. I kept trying to do what I usually do, give a presentation, but I was having trouble and thankfully the class began asking questions. The first question asked was, "What was your favorite subject in school?" and I stated that it was math and social studies. I explained how I loved math and taught myself to multiply in the first grade, and my love on states and capitols. The next question was, "What's the capitol of Florida?" and before the words had time to echo through the classroom I fired back, "Tallahassee."

Questions continued on about my memory, and comments abounded on things the kids have seen on various news programs. As the ice totally thawed, this question was asked, "Do you think people did, or do, underestimate you because of your diagnosis?" What?! Was this question asked by a 5th grader or a PhD student? It took me a moment to gather my composure because the depth of that question was astounding. The very next question, after I gave my answer, was, "If you could simply be cured of Asperger's, would you?"

As it went on I explained that I had just moved to my own place and one kid asked me if I am a good cook. I laughed and said, "not so much" and another kid then stated, "Well, when you start to be sure to have a fire extinguisher." How true that is!

I went into this presentation fearing for my pride and reputation because I was sure I would make a mockery of myself, and not get through to the students at all. What I realized was that I had really sold the students short. The complexity of their questions was amazing and I believe my information came across.

What started out as an event I greatly feared turned out to be an amazing 50 minutes. I've always wondered what it would have been like had I been diagnosed earlier and the reaction of my classmates; I mean, would they have understood? I've thought that for a long time and now I have my answer. Not only can they understand, but they can also empathize and they seemed to want to learn about it. It started as an I vs. them situation but in the end this presentation has shown me hope. If I can walk into a room of 5th graders and get them to talk about the autism spectrum, the bounds of, "understanding is the foundation for hope" knows no bounds


  1. Too many tears are falling down my face to comment. It has been my hope that you would eventually move into the classrooms across America to educate the next generation. It is my dream that every child on the spectrum grow up with understanding from their peers and pride from within. You just took the first step in making that happen for thousands of children on the spectrum. You are their hero and you are their hope!

  2. I agree 100% with the previous poster! I couldn't have said it better! You are wonderful and what you are doing to educate everyone about ASD is amazing!

  3. I told you fifth graders were amazing, but I am even more in awe of them after reading your story. I find it precious that it appears they started asking you questions because they were feeling your discomfort and wanted to ease it a bit. I sometimes wonder when the point is that these amazing and truly compassionate little creatures turn into 'normal' people. I hope you can do more of these child audience presentations...being around this age truly gives one a hope in humanity that perhaps underneath all the pain and anger that most people carry around, there is a fifth grader who has a beautiful and non-judgemental soul.

    In any case, your Nephew thinks your the
    'bee's knees', oh wait, 'the horses tail', nevermind...he just really likes you. :)

  4. Wow, that's really great Aaron! And what amazing questions they had.
    I do wonder if there would've been someone thinking 'hey but I feel it like that too...' just like I did when I heard about Autism in primary school...