Older, Bigger, Diverser (#516)

While Charlie and Jim slept in, rode bikes up hills, and ran errands (the bank, the supermarket, where Charlie put a third of a watermelon into the cart to Jim’s surprise), I stood at a table in the gym of the college where I teach for Open House. High school students—nervous and trying not to appear so—slowly filtered in with their parents—nervous and looking around.
Many of these students will be the first generation in their families to attend college; many of their parents are immigrants, as are more than a few of the students themselves: Jersey City, where the college is located, is one of the most diverse cities in the country in terms of race and ethnicity. Not so long ago, college might not have been a possibility for any of these students just as (as Jim and I later noted) college seems like such an impossibility for autistic students—-but who knows what might happen for the current generation of school-aged children all up and down the autism spectrum, like Charlie? More than a few colleges and universities are trying to provide more support services to help students with Asperger’s Syndrome, manage and thrive.

Will neurodiversity be the new “ethnicity-that-is-something-other-than-and-not-exactly-like-ethnicity”?

Will kids like Charlie integrate colleges and universities just as they have public elementary, middle and high schools?

In recent conversations with a college student with AS and a writer of “stories from the other side of autism,” both emphasized that they had done better, in school and in general, as they got older (in particular, in their high school years). We talk so much (how can we not?) of early intervention, but we would do well to remember that learning never stops, that there are no magic threshold cut-off ages after which a child will not be able to be taught reading or other academic skills.

“It ges better as he gets older.” I said it myself this afternoon to friends regarding where their 6-year-old is now and where Charlie is today. I noted how I used to fear Charlie’s getting older and, perhaps even more, his getting bigger (than me, especially). But lately—far from fearing the inevitable of Charlie growing up—-I have begun to enjoy the process. So he is almost my height, and strong?—he can carry the heavy bags of groceries, can take out the garbage, learn to stop at the sidewalk’s end.

And who knows what else.
We were actually walking around the town where Jim himself had attended college and many were the stories a particular building or furniture store had to tell. Charlie, his hood sometimes on to keep his ears worn, walked with and ahead of us, checked out the stone stairs edging a field, shared a diet soda, vocalized distress after an hour of walking (some French fries refueled him), and held onto one friend’s arm, and shook hands: “Buy-eye.”

As I was getting dressed to go to the Open House this morning, I grabbed a dark blue blazer from the closet and pulled it on. The front did not seem quite right and then I realized, I was wearing Charlie’s blue blazer, the one he had worn for his Halloween captain costume. As I switched it for my own clothes, I realized how perfect the fit was.

7 Responses to “Older, Bigger, Diverser (#516)”
  1. bethduckie says:

    It’s all very exciting. Sometimes Al (8 and tall) has a ‘mature’ look on his face and I think- THAT’s what you will look like when you are 14, 16, 18… very cool.
    Al has some special jobs that are his. He takes the recycling bag out and sorts all the cans etc into their respective bins. He carries in the shopping. and so on. I wasnt too happy when he ‘recycled’all the wine glasses, but hey, I never made that clear either!!

  2. My ability to handle school got worse and worse as I got older, not better and better. The more of the learning actually needed to take place in class, the less I learned.

  3. That is a good idea for something else Charlie can do.

    Ballastexistenz, your writing ability has gotten better and better, perhaps.

  4. mcewen says:

    ‘I realized how perfect the fit was’….and a perfect match.
    Best wishes

  5. natalia says:

    there need to be more ways for autistics to attend college, options where precise timing and social stuff and being present in the classroom don’t matter, and only learning matters. right now we are terrible at something like this. the only current adaptation i am thinking of that actually exists is online classes, but they are limited in their range and availability… and at our tech college the online classes’ exams are still given in a testing center (w flourescent lights) … i don’t know the answers for this whole thing but the question or issue needs to be brought up. and eventually we need to figure something out.

  6. natalia says:

    when i said “we are terrible at something like this” i meant “we” as teachers and other people involved with colleges (thinking of myself as part of the Tech where i teach). i didn’t mean “we” as autistics.

  7. Maybe there could be a mix of actual (human) teaching and computer use, perhaps in a classroom? Professors could be aware of why a student has different needs for the class participation grade?

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