You know how there are a few kids that everybody in the school knows by name? A. was one of those. High functioning but definitely on the spectrum. As a specialist once told us, “When you know one autistic child, you know one autistic child.” Each unique, each with their own path to find through the world that does not compute to them as it does to most.
He came to our school in second grade, so as a first grade teacher at the time, I was never his classroom teacher. But he was in my afterschool origami classes for many sessions over his elementary school years; an avid but quiet folder, keeping physically apart, occasionally doing ‘his own thing’ instead of the group lesson. Occasionally hand-flapping, occasionally pacing the perimeter frantically when agitated, occasionally blurting out inappropriate verbal bursts, but we worked to keep him calm and comfortable and were mostly successful.
And he grew up! He went on to the local public middle school. I invited him back to be an origami assistant and earn community service hours and he came. He now had long hair in a silky ponytail, used a gender-neutral nickname, and chose not to explain himself when the younger kids asked if he was a boy or a girl. (I refer to A. as “he” because I have never been informed differently.) He needed reminders to actually help the beginners, but he was responsible. And he started learning wild and many-step origami models form an online teacher, Jeremy Schaeffer, and entertaining the younger kids with them.
Now he comes once each year to help with our International Night (in the Japan-origami station, of course.) He brings wonderful pieces to show that blow our minds and he enjoys sharing them.
Today walking home I thought I saw him at the intersection behind me. “Is that A.?” I called. “Ms. M.!” he called across the street. “Hello!”
“Happy Spring,” I said, and A. replied, “Happy Spring to you, too!”
He sounded so good. Somehow it made me very happy. This simple hello.