Finals Week

For my son, English is a second language.  His primary language is pictures.  He thinks completely in pictures, watching his thoughts go by in his head.  I remember when I first realized this.  We were driving to town and I heard him giggling in the backseat.  I asked him what he was laughing at, and he said, “I’m watching Foxound.”  ‘The Fox and the Hound’ was one of his favorite movies at the time, and he was literally watching it in his head.

Due to his autism, Ian has spent the past 24 years of his life trying to learn our language.  His language by it’s very definition is impossible for him to communicate in, and it is extremely difficult for other people to communicate with him using it.  His expressive and receptive language issues have made school a huge challenge.  In many classes he has had to work twice as hard as the ‘normal’ students just to keep up.  

Last month, Ian completed finals week at his junior college.  Courageous person that he is, he took a speech class.  Taking speech is terrifying for many people, but just imagine taking a speech class in a second language.  Ian called me a couple of weeks before the final saying that he was really scared and nervous.  They were to draw a random topic out of a hat, and in two minutes, prepare a five minute speech on that topic.

I had him make an appointment with his teacher to explain to her about his autism, even though he’d already told her about it. We worked out everything he was going to say, and he wrote it all down in case he got flustered.  He explained to her that finding the right words was hard for him, even when he knew what he was talking about.  He explained that the reason he was taking speech was to help him get better at communicating.  He told her he was scared not knowing what his topic would be. 

I saw a poster once.  In it there are two pictures, side by side.  In the first, three people of different heights are standing on boxes that are the same size, reaching for apples.  Next to that is another picture with the same three people, but this time the boxes are different sizes, the largest box for the shortest person.  Under the pictures it says, ‘Equality doesn’t mean equity’.

Equality versus equity.  Equality only works if we all start at the same point, if we need the same help.  Equity means giving each individual the right kind of help. Equality is fairly easy to obtain.  Equity, however, is far more challenging, especially in an educational setting. 

My son faces this dilemma nearly every day as he struggles to find his place in a world that often isn’t willing to work with his challenges.  How hard would it have been to give Ian an extra couple of minutes to prepare his speech, or perhaps some idea of what his topic might be?  Given the right sized ‘box’, Ian is capable of truly amazing things.  

By the way, he got a ‘B’ in his speech class.