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A Different Summer School This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     When I wake up on summer mornings, I know I am going to my favorite place to volunteer and make a difference in someone’s life just by being with him or her - a summer school for autistic children.

Helping the kids read or do math, I am not only teaching important skills but also helping them feel like any other kid. There are many stereotypes about autism and most are untrue. The kids I work with think and feel, but need assistance in certain areas, whether social problems or interacting with their environment.

Of course, each has a unique personality. For example, one boy can brighten the classroom with his toothy grin and flaming red hair. Some kids like to draw, others like to swing, and one really likes stop lights.

At the school, the kids learn by using “work basket” activities which include solving puzzles, sorting coins, or setting the table. There are about 20 activities to help them learn skills they will need later in life.

Autistic kids come from all kinds of homes and lifestyles. At school we give them extra attention, including playing games to relieve stress or treating them to an extra snack. Volunteering with these kids has changed my perspective on autism. It’s not necessarily a burden and it certainly doesn’t keep them from doing amazing things.

My perceptions began to change the very first day I volunteered when a boy who had trouble making eye contact and interacting with others came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said “Hello.” From then on, I knew I could make a difference.

Another boy I worked with loved to have me read from booklets that are meant to help him learn to read. Sometimes he could be encouraged to read a few words or sentences. Finally, one day during reading practice, he took charge and read nearly 220 booklets himself!

Summer school is also a time for fun, and physical education gives these kids a chance to stretch their legs. They play tag, bounce balls and interact with classmates in ways not possible in the classroom.

Last summer, bagpipe players came to perform. Most of us had our hands over our ears because they were so loud. When they asked for a volunteer from the audience one girl raised her hand as high as she could, got up on stage, and even tried the bagpipes in front of everyone.

Through these experiences, I realize that the challenges these extraordinary kids face do not stop them from accomplishing many things. I’m teaching them, but they are teaching me more.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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