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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Let your "blue" light shine

Hello everyone.

Long time, no see.

 Today is autism awareness day and in honor of today and autism awareness month I want to share a little story with you.

Last year I had a class of 23 Kindergarten students.  Three of those students had a diagnosis of autism.  I wasn't sure until right before school began whether or not they would be placed in my class.  Secretly I was hoping they would be.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to teach my students lessons about friendship, working with others, respect and acceptance, and also, MY chance to pay it forward.

Growing up I had a very special friend.  His name was Cullen.  He was my friend before I knew what the word friend meant.  We were in weddings together, went to Sunday school together, and were classmates in elementary school together.  Cullen was special.  He was loving, kind, and smart.  He loved life and everyone in it.

When we were in either 1st or 2nd grade his parents started noticing changes in gross motor skills.  He was eventually diagnosed with a condition that I can neither spell, pronounce, or correctly define.  All I know is that slowly he began to lose all of the physical pieces of himself.  A boy who once ran, played, and line danced for a second grade show and tell was now bound to wheel chair.  It was a hard concept for us as his friends to understand. As time went on he lost his outward functions but his insides never changed. I will never be more in awe of one person and their strength, love for life, for people, and for Jesus.

That year my 2nd grade teacher arranged our desks in horseshoe shape and every day we rotated our desks so that each of us had the chance to sit by him and another student in our class with special needs.  Our job for the day was to assist them, either but helping them use their scissors, get books from inside their desks, or just be their buddy for the day.  It was a responsibility, a lesson, and privilege.  One that each of us not only looked forward to but often times we found ourselves fighting over who would play with them at recess, sit with them at lunch, or be their partner for a class activity.  We never had a discussion about these boys and their conditions, their special needs, their differences.  We were not lectured about all of the ways we were going to be forced to treat them because it was the right thing to do.  We were simply given the chance to demonstrate our powers of love and friendship.

And it worked.

BEAUTIFULLY.

My 2nd grade teacher was a genius.

Last year, when I was told I would be getting three students with autism my only hope was that I could create a classroom that would make half the impact on my students that my 2nd grade teacher and my friend Cullen made on me.  

Although my boys last year did not have the same unique situation as Cullen the conditions were still the same.  They look like everyone else.  Talk like everyone else.  Love life, school, people, and sports like everyone else. They are no different than anyone else only they see life in a different way.  A special way.  They all want love, acceptance, and a chance to share their amazing gifts with the world.

To me autism is not a sad diagnosis.  It's a brilliant one.  One that has the capability of giving more to the world than any of us could ever imagine.  There are times when life with autism is difficult, frustrating, and exhausting but the highs that counteract the lows, the days of pure J. O. Y. will always outweigh the hard times.

If you don't have much knowledge about autism I would encourage you to learn.  I would also encourage you to reach out, support, and love someone with autism or someone who is raising, teaching, or encouraging someone with autism.  Let the world of autism make an impact on you.  Let your blue light shine. You will never be the same and you will be so glad that you did.

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