Three years ago, a sixth grader walked up to our check out station, book in hand, and wanted to borrow the book. He didn’t say a word, and my co-worker began giving him the traditional instructions: Open your planner, stamp the page, scan your barcode, and—-before she could finish he covered his ears and ran out of the library.
Juan was autistic and we did not know that because it was the beginning of the year, and of course, he looked like every other sixth grader. We learned to give him one instruction at a time, and to be very patient with him. A few weeks later, he showed up at the computer lab, sat down and began to stare at the computer. I went over to him to see what he was doing, asked him if he needed help and he stared at his lap.
"I’m here to do research."
"Ok," I said. "What kind of research?"
"What are you researching?"
"You are researching research?"
At that point, I realized he didn’t have a pass, and I asked if his teacher knew he was in the library. He didn’t answer, so I instructed him to go back to class and get a pass. As soon as he left the room, I telephoned his teacher and told her that Juan wanted to do some research. She sent him back to the library with a topic and three questions to answer.
He had been in the library, hearing other students talk about their research papers, and wanted to be just like them.
This year, on the last day of school, Juan came into the library all grown up and excited about entering high school. He was way too cool to give us hugs or even high fives, but we had watched him bloom from a scared kid to a pretty capable learner. Kind of makes it all worthwhile, don’t ya think?
Juan is not really his name. ;)
The above photo is one that I snapped this summer in the Louvre, and I chose it as a representation of how my preconceived ideas concerning how students learn might really look in their eyes.