Monday, March 11, 2013

110 Magical Minutes

I seem to be writing about this quite a bit as each time I present to a school I seem to always leave impressed, but once again I couldn't believe the response to my presentation at a school.

It was at the Dexter Middle School and I was scheduled to speak to the entire school for 110 minutes. I was worried about the length of time because sometimes the questions can tend to break down after 60 or 70 minutes. I made this point to the principal and informed him that should this happen I don't know if the full time would be worthwhile.

My presentation began and I've pretty much have my school presentation down as to what I say and when I say it. I only speak for about 20-25 minutes and then I open it up for questions. I was worried because this meant I'd have an hour-and-a-half for questions. That's a long time for any group.

Once the questions began there were no shortage of questions. And as usual the depth of the questions were nothing short of amazing. And it's these questions which, as a presenter, I live for. I have no idea what's going to be asked and while in other forums this might scare me I love the ability I have to be on top of my game. Also, my improv comedy skills shine through which I never thought I'd be funny in any way, but a student on Friday asked me how I react to questions since her brother, who is on the spectrum, craves sameness. I mentioned a story that happened two days prior when I had a classroom of my own for a day in a school. This student asked me if I was in my 20's and I said that I wasn't and that I turned 30 just last month. Her response was, "30? Ew!" and without and delay I came back with, "Wow, way to make me feel old!" The teachers got a bang out of this and while this student was trying to find the words to apologize I kept going, "So, yeah I feel old now but I'll tell you this; someday you're going to turn 30 too and I hope you remember this day." Again, she was trying to find the words to apologize but I wasn't going to let her so with a smile I quickly said, "next question" and that was that.

When answering questions I lose track of time because the questions require so much thought and very much like I was when I raced I go into this subconscious state. My movements and answers are done without thought, if that makes sense. I mean, I guess it would be like going into "the zone" in that everything is done naturally without thought. I do think of the answers but they come naturally.

As time progressed I had no idea where I was with respect to time. The questions were not breaking down and the depth was remaining. I got asked my opinion of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, was asked if there's any research in scanning the brain of those on the autism spectrum to see if there's any difference, and if seizures are common for those that have autism. Those questions I'd expect to come from med students or parents, but these were from 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

Near the end I got asked, "Do you feel sad if someone makes fun of you?" I thought about it for a second and answered something like this, "Yes but not for the reason you may expect. I'm 30 and if a student in a school like this were to ever do so I wouldn't be mad that they made fun of me and here's why. I'm comfortable with who I am. Remember, we're all different. However, not everyone is like me and not everyone is content with being on the autism spectrum. This means that if someone makes fun of me they will probably makes fun of someone else that is just trying to live their life like everyone else. They may, beyond words, crave to be normal. If someone points out a quirk, or makes fun of it, the sadness this may cause is deeper than you can probably imagine. I used to be there after I got diagnosed, I know how it feels. Now, I'm comfortable being me but please be aware not everyone is and words can hurt more than you can imagine."

As I answered that question the gymnasium with about 550 people had an absolute eerie silence to it. There was my voice but nothing else. When I hear this silence I know I'm being heard and that's my goal in life. After a few more questions I was informed that time was up and I thanked the school for having some of the best questions ever and then I got what was without a doubt the loudest round of applause ever. Many students in the 7th grade stood up while applauding and I wanted to cry because for one it was over and two I knew an impact had been made.

Afterwards the principal told me he couldn't believe how well the students' attention held. He went on to say he wished they could have assemblies like this more often but keeping attention spans for nearly two hours is something not many people can do and he ended with saying, "thank goodness you didn't make it in racing because you have found your true calling." I responded with saying, "Thank goodness!"


  1. Oh what a wonderful day! It gave me tears just reading about it. You are so special and I love you so much. Your Mum

  2. You are nothing if not amazing Aaron. What a huge blessing to the people who are so hungry for information, and whose lives can be impacted in a way no clinical situation could ever hope to achieve.

  3. I really wish my son's school could hear you speak. They say they are working on it...I hope they are.

  4. I have done a two hour presentation by myself recently in an OT conference. It is indeed not easy. But I think that if you are passionate about something (in this case for both of us is autism), you can overcome that.

    You do have an advantage when because of a few things-

    1. You don't have to be super technical. However, I have to be because I am an OT and I usually am expected to present to my OT peers.

    2. You have a luxury of not knowing who the experts are (if any) in the room for your presentation. I had that happened to me twice, as I knew there were at least one OT autism expert in the room. When you present your stuff with experts in the audience, that can be extremely stressful because you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of the experts.

  5. That is indeed wonderful! Awareness cannot be emphasized enough!!! I wish in Canada, Alberta specifically we had speakers to talk to students as well as I have a four year old with autism...Well done!!!