When i was in highschool, i was asked to volunteer in this program that got a bunch of outgoing/socially adept students to help socially awkward/special needs kids break out of their shells. At the time, autism wasn’t a widely known term yet. I was a sort of class clown from sophomore year and on and didn’t really care to have any responsibilities at the time, but I learned how to discipline my tomfoolery in theater thanks to a drama coach that noticed me hiding in bushes and throwing whole rolls of toilet paper at students that walked by, and not get beat up for it. (like whole rolls one uses for the traditional teepee-ing.) He asked me to take a class with him and I never stopped. Anyhow, I joined the program reluctantly at first, but figured it was a weird way to pay it forward. I didn’t care much about paying it forward really, but it being weird was the selling point.
A few weeks after Yes I Can (said program) started, a of the other volunteers stopped going. I figured it was probably because the kids we were helping weren’t just introverted, but almost had a fear of socializing. There was so much going on in their heads but they couldn’t get it out. When people try to do nice things and get no response, the most common response is frustration, and it’s easier to just stop trying if you were volunteering to begin with. No contract, no commitment. But I stuck around. It was like a tough crowd at a comedy club. Oh yeah, that’s the method I tried. I said and did things to make them laugh. At first, crickets. But I kept at it and they started laughing slowly but surely, just enough for them to get used to me and go, “ooooh, jesse”, but you know, in their heads. Then I tried a buddy system where I’d take a few of them around campus with me as I mingled with different friends. Of course, I had my friends incorporate them into conversations and to not act different around them. The kids were not having it at first, but eventually came around. Sort of. It was difficult. For me too. (Imagine being the funny guy that no one laughs at!) In the end, I couldn’t help them break out of their shell. At least not completely. I failed. And the program got disbanded because of funding, but I still tried to hang out with them. I got them to at least, smirk.
I stuck around because they were just like me all up to sophomore year. I was quiet, introverted and didn’t care to socialize. I was depressed since first grade. After freshman year, I decided I didn’t care anymore. I had no friends until I stopped caring about what other I thought other people must have thought of me. But I was so deep into not caring that I hadn’t noticed I’d amassed small groups of friends everywhere. It wasn’t a click, I had clicks everywhere. Jocks, nerds, geeks, cheerleaders, potheads, ditchers and even clicks from neighboring schools. “The trick in life is to not care,” a friend said once, much later in life. And before you know it, you’re caring and loving without even thinking about it.
Strange dream I had last night made me write this. I was in a regular class and the teacher wasn’t there yet. But one kid from the program was there. I forget his name, but I think it was Levi. He was stuttering a sneeze. “aaaaa-ch-ch-ch, never m-m-mind.” an improvement! I was talking with some friends with him next to me. I turned to him and said something like, “I bet you stutter now, but you’re probably all up in those chatrooms flirtin’ with ALL the girls, you’re an animal, I bet. Everybody! Levi’s got bitches online!” Levi immediately defends his own ass, “No I don’t! Shut up! I don’t got bitches online! Shut up, Jesse!” And I smiled at him. And everyone’s jaw dropped. I told him, “see? You don’t stutter when it matters… even though it’s a lie.” Levi threw a roll of toilet paper at me and I laughed. Then he said something funny.
“It’s so much easier to make everyone laugh when we’re up here, but no one hears my jokes when we’re down there.”
It was such a profound thing to say. Autism locks these kids in their minds, and some people treat them like they’re brain dead. They’re really not, they just need a little help busting them outta jail. It’s not like they want to be there. Their brain/body process reacts differently to external stimuli. They’re not weird on purpose. They’re trying to be as normal as they can, but jaiiil. And not caring, while it may work for some of us, the key to the cell, doesn’t work that well for others. Alas, it was only a dream. But that quote Levi said though… I woke up right after, giggling. I repeated it in my head and thought, as above, so below.