As far as the typical middle school social life goes, Ali's existence could be likened to a car repeatedly careening full speed into a brick wall and bursting into a ball of flames. His undiagnosed, but very apparent Autism, has removed all filters, all common sense, and all good judgment from him while leaving--fortunately, or unfortunately--the complete ability to speak, learn, and function in the same educational environment as his peers. In the good moments, it can lend to some very fascinating, fun, and rewarding work from the teacher's standpoint. Because he is so black and white, and has a very high moral code, Ali can make things ridiculously and refreshingly easy on everyone.
For example, he approached me a couple weeks ago about the difficulty he was having with one of his teachers in a class, and I told him in so many words to "suck it up". He listened to me in quiet contemplation, the typical look dawning over his face that told me the wheels were turning full speed up there. Minutes after our conversation, Ali approached this particular difficult teacher in the hall. "Ms. A," he declared. "Though your class is my hardest, I have decided that I am going to cooperate with you this year."
Then, there are those Kamikaze-esque, car exploding into the wall moments that leave us all with our heads in our hands. Ali has no greater desire than to be accepted and liked by his peers, and his new appreciation of the finer sex is very apparent, but he has zero and I mean ZERO idea how to go about making positive connections with other 6th graders. At best, an exchange with another peer may sound like this.
Ali: "What is up, my homie?"
Peer: "Ali, I told you not to call me homie, and stop touching me!"
At worst, he is recklessly tossing around extremely inappropriate phrases or threats at girls which seem to be derived from a combination of rap song lyrics, and quips from R-Rated movies, that I have very seriously told him, WILL end him up in trouble with the police if he keeps it up. Even then, the long, tearful, and absurd processing he goes through to confront the situation in the principal's office often causes all of the staff involved to stifle a laugh. To himself, in a quiet mutter: "No, Ali. Stop it, Ali. Don't go down this road again, Ali. You're going to get yourself in even bigger trouble."
Thankfully, the car crashes have lessened some in recent weeks, giving the hopes that I'm doing some real, tangible good this year in helping Ali survive middle school. But, at my wit's end with everybody and everything on the last day before Christmas Break, Ali had to remind me that there's still a lot of work ahead.
It was the end of the period in the Science class which I push in to with some of my students. I was standing at the door chatting with two of the prettier girls in the class with which Ali had already gotten into scads of trouble attempting to woo.
As we three girls chatted, Ali approached slowly, the starry-eyed grin on his face that told me we were all in trouble. "Callie," he said to one of the two 6th graders. "I am going to miss you so, so much." Callie just graciously smiled at him, but having the opportunity to modify this interaction in the moment, I objected.
"Ali, you're going to see her in two weeks. You only see her once a day as it is."
But, no, he was going to miss her terribly and didn't know what he was going to do with himself. A couple minutes later, a bigger group of boys and girls had congregated as the bell was just about to ring.
"You know," Ali started up again, directing himself to the original two pretty girls. Uh-oh. "There's a new term that's being used these days: ladies man. That's what I am--a ladies man."
KABOOM! Up billowed the flames from the wreckage. The girls giggled wildly. Several kids looked at him in shock. One boy mumbled, "I'm actually embarrassed right now." I simply shook my head slowly and didn't hide my disdain from the rest of the students.
Just before the bell ring, Ali had just a little more fuel to add to the inferno. It seems, as usual he had taken all the shock and awe from his peers as the positive attention he was looking for.
"I'm sure making a lot of friends this year."
Shame on me for my total lack of professionalism, I just couldn't take it any more.
"You know, Ali. With that previous comment, I think you might have just lost a few."