So I have been working with a young dude named Tim. Tim has difficulty expressing himself with words, he does not like social situations and he has a very different perspective on the world that you and I see.
Tim is an 11 year old pre-teen with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I met Tim when I began my internship in the behavioural classroom of a school, working with an eclectic bunch of people with very different personalities, and very different challenges. On my first day of placement I noticed that Tim did not seem to think that he needed to hang out with his peers at recess or at lunch-time…I knew something was a little quirky.
I asked the teaching assistant about him, and I was told to not bother, that this was who Tim was and is, and will be, so there is no real point in engaging him during these times, only to progress through curriculum. As a Child and Youth Care Practitioner of 5 years’ experience, I knew that something seemed off.
The next day at lunch, I moved past the ‘teacher’ table and sat down at Tim’s table, at which he is always unaccompanied; I sat down across from him and 2 spaces over. I just opened my salad and began my eating.
Tim, with some glorious pre-teen attitude said, “Why the heck are you sitting here!?! I like to be alone.”
After a brief pause, I replied, “me too”.
Tim looked at me with curiosity and then he continued his lunch. The next day I did the exact same thing, except I just sat quietly and we did not exchange any dialogue. After 8 minutes, Tim asked me about my position in the program that he is in, and just some fun facts about Jonny (myself). I shared a large piece about me and my strange yet cool family, and then asked him about his family. He divulged so much information, it was lovely. My colleagues were astonished at the fact that the new guy got him to talk.
The following week, I noticed that he had had a meltdown, and that the teachers were all reprimanding him, but my instincts said something was strange. At recess I asked him how he was feeling, to which he responded in his usual pre-teen response, “HOW DO YOU THINK IM FEELING!?!” After a brief pause I said, “Well how would I know, you haven’t told me.” He looked at me and shared so much information about who has been bullying him, how he feels betrayed and how he, ultimately just does not fit in. We spoke about it and created a plan together.
Following anybody’s verbal and body language, regardless of challenge or diagnosis, leads to extraordinary results. Be it with a friend, a lover, a family member or a child named Tim. It is up to you whether you take that initiative and sit down across from them and 2 spaces over at lunch and engage them at their level, not yours. In every crisis I have ever worked in, this is always the same, be it in my relationships, my family, and my friends or in my work with children with special needs.
This leaves one question–are YOU the one who will sit down across from somebody and 2 spaces to the side? The difference you will find in your life and in theirs is unbelievable.
Contributed by Life, Relationship and Youth Coach, Jonathan Friedman