To Be Understood
It was the first day of high school. Like every other freshman, I was scampering about the school grounds trying to find my classes. Finding my sixth hour class (Choir 1-2: Men's Choir) was especially a problem and I reached class five minutes late but I made it. As I entered the classroom, I saw only eleven students. Ten of them were freshmen with frightened expressions sitting uncomfortably in their chairs. The reason for their fright was the eleventh student. He was 5'7, 250 pounds; he was stomping on the risers and shouting in a mad fit of rage. It seemed as though I was only minutes away from being crushed under his feet. Valuing my body, all 110 pounds of it, I took the chair closest to the exit door.
We all required an explanation for his behavior and thankfully, the teacher had one. He explained that this seemingly homicidal student was Aamro and he had autism. The teacher quickly added that that while Aamro is calm most of the time, there are some days where he becomes too energetic. Energetic was certainly a euphemism, but after hearing that Aamro was autistic, my opinions of him definitely changed.
In the subsequent days I realized that the teacher was right. Aamro was much calmer and even happier. Fear subsided and curiosity replaced it. I wanted to know more about him, understand him and his autism. Fortunately, my curiosity was shared by my classmates as well. We started conversing with Aamro but he would never answer back. I knew that autistic children had communication problems but I had faith that there was some way to reach Aamro. Soon, we realized that he responded to yes-or-no questions. However, even these responses were not always coherent because he would often answer yes to questions whose answers were no.
Somewhere along the way, trying to communicate with Aamro became a competition amongst our class. There was no prize at stake, no rules formed but there was an unstated pact made between us. For me, talking to Aamro was more than a competition, it became a mission. I started researching autism, in hopes of finding some clue. I wish I could boast that I won the "competition". It was mere coincidence that we saw Aamro writing on the board one day, which gave us the all important clue. We expected mere scribbles but Aamro wrote the word "choir" with a completely legible handwriting. All of us looked at each other in amazement. My friend went up to the board and wrote the question, "Does Aamro like choir?". Aamro verbally responded yes. Then my friend put forth another question, "Why Aamro? Write it on the board". Aamro followed the instruction and wrote, "Because of Tuxedo". We always wore tuxedos for our choir concerts and Aamro loved his tuxedo. When he would wear it, he would shout, "Tuxedo!" repeatedly with a bright smile on his face. His answer made complete sense.
The communication commenced and we learned more about our friend. We found that Aamro loved opera and Pavarotti. When he would start singing Ave Maria, there was no stopping him. He not only liked opera but he also had a talent for beat-boxing. For our last concert, we arranged a song specifically so that Aamro could beat-box to it. Aamro also had a peculiar proclivity towards pens and he would steal them from the classroom when no one was looking. More importantly, we found that there he was a child just like us.
Aamro led me to this epiphany. He taught me that autistic children were, after all, children. Because of Aamro, I learned more about autism. He gave me the hope that autism was a barrier that could be broken down. If a group of eleven teenagers could do it, then research scientists definitely could. Aamro had taught me so much and I wanted to repay the favor. I took responsibility of Aamro for the year. I saw to it that he was dressed properly for concerts; I pacified him when he was angry, and tried to help him out when he was lost in class. At the end of the year, I was proud that I made the initial determination to talk to Aamro that made this journey possible. It was not until I sat down to write this essay did I realize Aamro's impact on me. His influence caused me to fall in love with neuroscience and make it my goal to find other such Aamros and understand them for all they really needed was to be understood.