Monday, December 12, 2022

The Last Question

I’m not sure how it works out, but every school presentation will be ended with a final question that is profound. This rule was no different on Friday. 

I was presenting to an entire sixth grade and the penultimate question was, “Why do people share misinformation about the autism spectrum online?” This was an amazing question, one of which I could answer fully, but it paved the way for the final question.

For years I’ve told you that you need to see the magic of a school presentation. It’s unlike anything else in the realm of presenting and the amount of hope you’ll walk away with is grand, whether it’s a person on the spectrum advocating, or peers wanting to understand. What was about to occur though felt bigger than anything. 

I got the cue, it was time for the last question. A hand was meekly raised and I pointed, the student looked down, then at me, took a moment and said, “Why does society think those with disabilities will never succeed?” I was floored. 

How do I answer this? I had been where that question was after my diagnosis in 2003 and the awful information I received. I know the feeling of guaranteed failure. From this point it makes life a chore, each day is another reminder that success is for others, the “normal” people, and that life, for me, would be of witnessing others live it while I’m off on the side merely to be an observer in everyone else’s joy. I experienced this when I was 20, but a sixth grader asking this? My heart broke. 

As for the words I spoke, I’m not sure. I became angry on the inside because no sixth grader should have this sentiment. I became angry at myself for not doing more. I wanted to fox this right then and there. It didn’t matter that this was my 1,045th presentation because I used to give 100+ presentations across missouri every year. Being removed from so many presentations, I forgot the need and the feelings of desperation others may have. 

I hope I answered her question with the precision and care it required. I know I mentioned that I had felt that way, but that I disproved the inability at success as I made it to the pinnacle of Motorsport with the NTT INDYCAR Series and the Indianapolis 500. I think her face perked up for a moment when I mentioned this.

There is so much work to be done. This is bigger than you, me, or any one outlet of information. I would’ve hoped in 12 years I’ve been presenting that this sentiment would’ve disappeared, but it hasn’t. There’s still a gigantic need and the pain of those that believe they shouldn’t even try due to society’s thoughts is unimaginable. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to do my part, and try to get my voice out there amid the chaotic dissonance of misinformation to say that, “I’ve been there, that feeling hurts, but let me tell you way it isn’t true…”

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