Breakthrough at 17

As I was creating visual supports for a family of a child with autism, my 17 year old niece sat beside me scrolling through her phone, laughing at videos, memes, and blogs. Following a 20 minute span of her showing these to me, she realized my focus and concern was more about the visuals I was creating, not those of her peers on social outlets. She inquisitively put her phone away, and watched what I was doing. It only took a few short moments for her to pause and ask, "what is it that you do anyway?" Imagine my bemusement, as I have been in this field longer than she has been alive, and we have had countless conversations about autism.

To break it down in teenage terms, I pulled up my website. I walked her through each component of the business and what family support looks like, what school and peer training look like, why I might work in the employment sector or with medical practitioners, and how the visual supports related to these areas of need. I was so taken aback by her inquiries and the level of conversation we shared that day, the conversation was unceasing.

My niece continued by sharing with me about students that she has had in her classes over the years, and a boy who is currently in her grade, and how he is treated. I referred back to the website and reiterated peer to peer support. We discussed what it is, why it's important, and how she can be a leader in her school. Her face suddenly lit up and she asked, "will you come to our school and do that?" I shared with her that I would love to, and she eagerly demanded that she was going to talk with her principle the next day to see if he would hire me to come work there. . . or at a minimum, provide training. She insisted on being my assistant, and was brainstorming for a solid 30 minutes on games that she could create to help her peers understand and be better leaders as well. I was so astounded by this conversation I just couldn't let it end. It was easily two and a half hours later that we began to wind down the questions, stories, and ideas. The level of interest my niece shared with me that day, and the concern she had for her peers gave me hope.

I was reminded that there are kids who--despite the amount of time spent on their phones or other devices--do care about the world around them. They do want to learn and grow and be knowledgable. The key is that it takes an adult to lead them there. I read something earlier this week by Stephanie Pace Marshall, that reads like this:

"Learning emerges from discovery, not directives; reflection, not rules; possibilities, not prescriptions; diversity, not dogma; creativity and curiosity, not conformity and certainty; and meaning, not mandates."

My niece saw me doing something that I loved and was passionate about, enough times that she became curious. This was an opportunity to compound the important things in life, to foster creativity, practice communication, instill leadership, allow reflection, and imagine possibilities. As bemused as I may have been upon her initial inquiry, I felt accomplished at the end of that day because I had the opportunity to teach one of today's youth what is important in life--loving others.


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