Friday, February 1, 2013
Before Autism Was An Epidemic
Corey was my first contact with autism, back in 1974. Educators certainly did not know everything we know now about it. There was very little known. Corey was in my classroom of mentally challenged, mentally ill, higher-functioning high school students. He fit right in. Except for that art thing.
In those days, copies were made on mimeograph machines. Purple ink, damp stinky paper... the kind of smell we used to pretend to get "high" on. Pretty toxic stuff. There were no Xerox machines or copy machines as we know them today, even though we lived in the Twin Cities, home of IBM. There was certainly no way to enlarge or reduce pictures; unless you had Corey in your room! Corey could draw them exactly like they were printed, any size I needed. He had multiple fancy fonts, also. Flawlessly executed.
How to channel that talent? Or was it OK to just let him use it for his own amusement? He had no friends, so Corey had never been invited to a sleepover, or a birthday party, or gone on a date. He wasn't going to get his driver's license or go to a football game or the prom. His entire source of 'fun' was his drawing. Maybe we should just leave the kid alone and let him draw. Don't try to turn him into 'something'.
I was a young, enthusiastic teacher. I had to try.....try something. I entered him in the University of Minnesota "World Law Day" poster competition. He would be competing with twenty extremely talented high school artists from all over the state. I sat him down with a box of markers, showed him the promotional materials from the event, and he began drawing. His first drawing was a beautiful rendition of the globe, with tall white columns all around it, and a collection of multi-cultural faces. He added some of his magazine-ready script, and he had the winning entry done in about twenty minutes.
Corey was not really public appearance material, so his mother would not allow him to go accept his award. Disappointed, but understanding, I accepted a shiny plaque and the $100.00 prize for him.
His mother and I, with our school's art teacher, brainstormed ways to spend the money on Corey. Art books? A day at Valley Fair, local amusement mega-park? New clothes? Markers and art paper?
Over all the years I have been a teacher, and as a mother of five children, this lesson has perhaps been one of the most valuable. Kids are all different. A teacher cannot make a student into another student. Sure, you wish all your students could be bright, curious, enthusiastic, and, well, perfect. Guess what? Each student, each child; they are themselves. Our calling is to guide them to be the best "self" they can be. That's what we should be, and that's what we should encourage them to be. Well taught, Corey.