Words have a way of sticking in your heart like a single drop of Crazy Glue to your skin. In time the sting wears off but there’s always a residue left behind.
Last year I had one of those experiences with Chase’s art teacher. He hadn’t been signed up for her class but the woodshop teacher had, “serious concerns” about a kid like Chase being in his 3-D design class. So, to meet his fine art requirement the art teacher agreed to spare her colleague and create an independent study for him.
I wasn’t angry about this and Chase shrugged it off. His great attitude improved mine.
Toward the end of the semester his art teacher was growing a little weary. Chase was struggling to finish a clay project that was vexing him. His frustration became his teacher’s and she promptly called in his case manager to vent.
I’ve learned over the years that when the alarm goes off it’s best to get to school right away. A long thread of emails has the potential to get too many knots.
His teacher was surprised to see me. In person she wasn’t nearly as comfortable expressing her concerns but I insisted.
“He’s not getting his project finished,” she said. “At the rate he’s going he won’t have it done by the end of the year and I’ll have to fail him. He was close to finished and then he tore the head off his sculpture.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I think he was upset because he realizes he’s not doing grade level work. At this age his projects should be more sophisticated. Look at what his peers can create,” she said showing me several examples of sculptures.
I smiled but the fur on the back of my back was rising.
“Are you sure that’s it?” I asked. “I know that he can be a perfectionist but he’s also patient with himself. He knows he’s making progress with his work. Do you realize he couldn’t write his name in fourth grade?”
“I think you told me that,” she said.
This made me angrier so I drove the point home a little more.
“Do you think the kids who created those other sculptures had to spend years in therapy just to be able to tie their shoes?”
This disarmed her and surfaced her real frustration.
“I just wish he’d asked me before he destroyed his piece. Now he’s running out of time and I don’t have the time to help him.”
“Have you given him a deadline?”
“That’s what he needs. Give him a deadline and he’ll get it done.”
The conversation ended with us on good terms. It didn’t hurt that Chase had swept her entire floor while we talked. But her words, “more sophisticated” had attached themselves to my heart and not in a good way.
Flash forward to last week. I had the opportunity to meet Temple Grandin. She’d come to Grand Junction to speak at the college about animal behavior. When the autism community got wind of this they came out in full force and she obliged by weaving insights about autism into her talk.
Before her presentation I was able to sit down with her one-on-one. I’d brought with me a picture Chase had drawn along with a note he’d written to her thanking her for all she’d done to indirectly help him.
She took the picture in her hand and said, “This is fantastic. He drew it from the animal’s perspective. Most people don’t do that. The picture would be from the human’s point of view.”
Not one to mince words she went on to say, “You need to start sending these to people. You have to get his work out there now.”
“He always balks at that though,” I said. “He says he’s not ready.”
“Tell him I insist,” she said.
Now a new phrase was starting to take hold but these words felt like a hug with a pat on the back that said, “Get it out there.”
I went home with an idea.
“Hey Chase for the church talent show Sunday—what about making a film with your Animal Alphabet Collection? Dr. Grandin says you need to get your work out there.”
He looked at me funny but while we talked I saw the light bulb go off. He got a vision. He came up with a storyline and I edited. After hours of work when I showed him the finished product I didn’t get teary- eyed he did.
“What’s a matter?” I asked.
“Nothing, I’m just touched,” he said. “This is my first film. I never thought it was possible.”
“I think people will love it,” I said.
“I hope so,” he said wiping his eyes.
Later that night I took the film to church for a run through with the talent show organizer. When all the technical aspects worked I was relieved. Chase would be all set for his premiere. I was so happy for him.
Walking down the hall to leave, a penny met me on the way out the door. I reached to pick it up and saw Chase and all his peers waiting for youth group to start. With their smiling faces as the backdrop God whispered in my ear, “they don’t care about ‘sophisticated’ they care about Chase and that’s all that matters.”
And…that is all that matters because truth be told, complexity is overrated.
Congratulations Chase on taking your first step toward getting out there!