Saturday, November 29, 2008

Exhibit A

One last Tyshaun story (for today). This one is a Thanksgiving story.

Yesterday, we celebrated Israel’s birthday. As we always do, we danced with abandon to “Birthday,” by the Beatles. The song lasts five or six minutes, and we jump and bounce and boogie all over the place to it. It is very good for all of us.

I noticed, partway through the song, that my class was dancing in small groups, and they were mostly dancing with the people they are closest to. There was a small group of four girls over here; three boys danced together over there. Some students stood outside the groups, including Alex.

Alex is new to our school this year, he’s the only Asian student in the class (and nearly the only one in the school), and he is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. We have been struggling since the beginning of the year with kids being mean to Alex. He has strange mannerisms, and pretty poor social skills, and is different in so many ways from everyone else.

As we danced, I suggested over the music that everyone try to dance with “the people you don’t talk to all the time.” This is the same language I use during our greeting at Morning Circle every day: I remind them to choose someone who is not their “very favorite friend” to greet, and it really helps mix up the order of the greeting. It ensures Alex doesn’t get greeted last, and that boys don’t only greet boys and girls don’t only greet girls. Sometimes someone goes to greet someone else, and their greeting is rebuffed with, “You talk to me a lot. You should choose someone else.”

I wasn’t sure if they really heard my suggestion, but then I looked across the rug at Tyshaun. He has been one of the worst offenders in terms of picking on Alex. I watched as he unselfconsciously extended his hands toward Alex. “Want to dance, Alex?” he asked. “Come on, dance with me.”

As I mentioned, Alex isn’t so strong with his social skills, so he didn’t answer or even acknowledge Tyshaun. Tyshaun tried two more times before giving up and just dancing next to Alex, smiling.

I didn’t say anything to Tyshaun about it at that moment. I wanted him to hold on to that feeling of doing something caring for someone else just because he wanted to, not because he thought I was watching. It was such a tender moment: the tough, cool boy holding his hands out to the autistic kid, offering not only to dance with him but to hold his hands. And not feeling rejected by Alex’s failure to respond, but dancing near him anyway.

That’s Exhibit A of why I like Tyshaun so much.

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