A new young man is now working the desk at my gym. There was something about the stiffness of his posture, the rhythm of his speech, even his word choices that made me smile.
After working with special needs students for twenty-eight years, I’m pretty adept at identifying young people who might have been in my class.
This morning when I arrived, there was a notice on the desk that the pool will be closed on the 6th. Not knowing when that is, I asked the young man. He had to walk around the desk to read the sign. He pulled out his phone and then told me today’s date.
He smiled a somewhat stiff smile that showed no sparkle in his eyes.
Because no one was needing help right then, I began asking him questions. First, was he a student. Using a rather stilted word pattern, I realized that my first impression was correct: he was high-functioning autistic.
He answered every question, something more guarded young people most likely would not do.
I found out that he graduated from high school last year and enrolled in Cal State East Bay. He struggled with the course load and ended up failing a few classes.
He hasn’t given up on getting a degree, in Entrepreneurship, no less. When I asked him what he intended to do with that major, he seemed befuddled.
He then told me that he’s currently taking only two courses at Chabot College, a local community college. Even with that reduced load, he’s having a hard time.
I told him about my granddaughter, who freaks out when too many assignments are due at the same time, and how I’ve tried to encourage her to focus on one assignment at a time, get it finished, then go to the next.
He thanked me for that advice and said he’d begin doing that. In fact, he named his current classes and identified a study schedule for each.
What surprised me was that he wanted to know how I realized he needed help!
I explained that I taught Special Needs students for many years, working with them and with their teachers.
That’s when he revealed that he was identified as being autistic when he was quite young and that he received quite a bit of help throughout his academic years.
He also wanted to know how I deduced that. I tried to explain that his word choices and the structure of his sentences were the clues.
I needed to go do my workout and he needed to return to the desk. We parted with me wishing him good luck in his studies. He mimicked my words, wishing me good luck with my workout.
I am proud of him, and students like him, who don’t give up on their dreams even when it’s difficult.
He found a job that’s perfect for him, greeting clients as they enter the gym.
I hope he works there a good long time, as that way I’ll be able to stay in touch.