Wednesday, November 16, 2011
One of the most interesting aspects of my job as a part-time middle school teacher is that I can observe [mostly] “normal” teenage behaviors. Often I compare and contrast how my students act with how Alex does to note how autism has impacted his behavior. The apparent need for teenagers to travel with accessories is something I have noticed in my seventh grade students as well as in Alex, so this must be a characteristic of teenagers in general. While my students frequently carry electronic devices, such as cell phones and iPods (although they may not display them openly during class since school rules prohibit their use during class time), Alex carries around different accessories that reveal his interests and needs.
Before and after school, students often use their cell phones to text, e-mail, and call their friends and parents. Because we cannot trust Alex to use a cell phone wisely, he—unlike most teenagers—doesn’t have one. I’m not sure who he’d call or text anyway, other than maybe 911, and we don’t need the police showing up on our doorstep to answer Alex’s false alarms. Besides, communicating verbally with others doesn’t rank highly on Alex’s list of priorities, anyway. Instead of a cell phone, Alex prefers to carry an electronic dictionary, perhaps so that he can look up the meanings of words he wants to know. In addition, he often carries around the more traditional dictionaries, in the form of books, but he likes the convenience of the compact electronic version.
Another accessory middle school girls carry is lip gloss, which they sometime surreptitiously apply during class. A few months ago, Alex went through a phase where he carried around lip balm. He only applied the lip balm before he went to sleep, but he liked to carry not one but two tubes of Blistik with him—one regular type and one mint flavored. If he couldn’t find his, he’d take mine. Before he went to bed, he had to make sure that he put the lip balm on his dresser. At some point, his fascination with lip balm ceased, and now I occasionally find tubes that he’s left behind in various places.
Of Alex’s accessories, his favorites are his clocks. Because of his fascination with time, he rarely goes anywhere that he doesn’t carry a clock with him. Although he has several battery-operated clocks that he can move from room to room, he seems to have three that are particular favorites. One is a talking clock that announces the time, often startling me when he’s left it behind in a room where I’m sitting. Alex especially likes clocks that also have thermometers built in so that he can keep track of the temperature along with the time. The other day, taking advantage of a temperate November afternoon, Alex went outside and sat on our backyard deck, carrying, of course, his clock with a thermometer. As he happily watched the time pass before his eyes on the clock, he noted the temperature changes as the sensor sat in the sunshine. While most teenagers would prefer listening to music on their iPods, Alex enjoys watching the numbers change on his digital clock/thermometer as the temperature varies and the seconds and minutes go by. Even though Alex carries different accessories than his peers do, he seems to enjoy the same sense of security, comfort, and entertainment they provide for him that similar items do for other teenagers. Hopefully, soon he’ll prove trustworthy enough to earn the accessory most of his peers possess—the ever-present cell phone. Of course, knowing Alex, he’ll just be thrilled that he can use it to find the time and temperature; he doesn’t need much to make him happy.
"Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away." I Corinthians 7:31