Last summer I had the opportunity to teach creative writing to young people at the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary. Since I’m finishing my undergrad this year, I had to step back from the organization to focus on school, but whenever I think about this 12 week class, I feel all warm and fuzzy. For your EXTREME enjoyment, I’ve included some of the stories we wrote together as well as our class’ manifesto.
The group of people I taught ranged from 11 years old to their 30s. Some members of the class were non-verbal, some were natural-born storytellers. Some of my students had fully formed worlds ready to fall onto the page and some let their thoughts fall like song lyrics. All of my students have autism, and all of my students stood to every challenge and surprised me over and over. We are conditioned to think that people who are not neurotypical have problems emphasizing, problems communicating or engaging. I GUARANTEE that ten minutes into one of those classes, anyone on the planet would take that back in a second. I strongly believe that teaching and working with youth is NOT about the teacher/ mentor/ facilitator. It is about the youth; not how good it makes you feel to “help” someone. However, it does feel good; not because I felt like I was HELPING in a huge way; because the students were helping ME. Teaching this incredible group changed my life; I saw poetry exercises aimed at university students get completely obliterated by 12 year olds. I saw bad days turn into epic novel ideas. I saw my students grow as writers and people. I can’t wait to graduate so I have time to do this again!