This year, I am teaching three subjects – math, religion, and science. I actually love teaching math. When I was in fifth grade, I made A’s in math. It came pretty easily to me and I find it easy to teach. Teaching about my faith is also pretty easy – it’s been a part of my life for 42 years. I don’t like science. I never liked it in school, and I don’t love teaching it now. I think every teacher finds one subject that is their Achilles’ heel, and science is it for me.
But today was different.
My class is learning about body systems. Today’s topic was the nervous system and last night’s homework was for the students to research a disorder or disease that affects it. They were given a commercially made handout that listed cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s’ disease, and a few others. We did an activity where the kids shared their information with one another, and then I happened upon a video on one of the websites I use with my kiddos. It was about autism.
Now, a few years back, I taught first grade at my school, so this happens to be round 2 for me with half of these fifth graders this year. I seem to remember possibly mentioning Michael’s “special challenges” to them when they were all 6 and 7, but I doubt it really made any sense to them at the time.
But today was different.
Frankly, the little animated video I found on Brainpop (the website I love to use for science) was kind of lame. It was very minimal and I didn’t feel like it gave the kids any information at all. However, the second I mentioned that my son was afflicted with the disorder, something changed. Hands started shooting up. They asked question after question about Michael. Stories were being told about neighbors, cousins, and friends who had autism. It was like something actually became real to these kids. They suddenly really, truly heard me. They talked about kids they knew who couldn’t talk about anything except dinosaurs; children they knew from camp who wore headphones all day and never wanted to play; kids in their neighborhood who flapped their hands all the time. It was like it all made sense now. They giggled when I shared stories about Michael and his obsession with ceiling fans. They excitedly suggested to me to take him to Home Depot and Lowe’s (two places he loves). When they asked if Michael plays any sports, I shared with them the special program in which he participates in running and soccer. When I told them that typical kids are volunteers in this program, some of them asked me if they were old enough to participate and be a buddy. We actually ran out of time for some of the things that I had planned this afternoon, but I just couldn’t bring myself to end this particular “science lesson”.
Michael has a fan club. I hope he gets to meet these kids one day soon. They really touched my heart today.
My cup runneth over