Monday, July 11, 2016

Eye contact

My eight-year-old grandson, Peter, has autism. He is bright, creative, quirky and full of surprises. He attended second grade in a public school this year, and he proudly tells people he is now in the third grade.
The end of the year assignment in his second grade class was a public speech. Each student was to introduce him or herself in three minutes. They could use a manuscript.
Peter is one of those chosen children who actually love to write. He wants to be a writer when he grows up and has already written and illustrated over 20 “books.” So producing the manuscript for the speech offered no problem.
The difficulty came with the other guidelines, chief among which was eye contact. Peter was supposed to look around at people as he spoke. He was instructed to make contact with his audience of second grade peers. He would be graded on this.
Eye contact has been problematic for Peter since infancy; it’s part of autism. He’s actually done quite well and has learned to occasionally look people in the eye as he speaks with them. He’s gotten used to us saying, “Peter, look at me.” But it’s never become quite natural.
And he doesn’t multitask. Give him a job to do, with clear instructions, and he can pour himself into it with passion. Thus, the more than 20 “books,” and the boxes of art work. But giving a speech and making eye contact with an audience are two separate tasks for him, and one task too many for it to be easy or natural.
But Peter determined to get it right, so he and his mom came up with a plan. Kristin, my daughter, penciled dots in his manuscript, one after each two sentences. The dot was a clue for Peter to lower his manuscript and look at someone in the audience. They decided on 5 seconds as a good amount of time for the look. Then they practiced. And Kristin videoed the practices on her phone so they could learn from them.
That seems like a lot of work for the second grade.
Peter is also visually impaired, so he had to hold the manuscript close, right in front of his face. Although he had the speech memorized, he wanted to do it this way. After all, the teacher said to use the manuscript.
So, face well hidden, he stood and began to loudly, clearly read the introduction. Then, briskly he lowered his arms and stared straight ahead, in this case at Kristin. When Peter stares, it’s serious. It’s fierce, concentrated and without the blink of an eye. As I watched the video, I could imagine him mentally counting to five. Then up went the manuscript and he loudly read the next two sentences. He reminded me of a robot as he again lowered the manuscript, shifted his head to stare at another person for five fierce seconds. Then up again for the next part. Repeat, repeat, repeat, right to the end. Kristin admirably harnessed her temptation to laugh.
As I said, he was determined to get it right.
And he must have done so, because he passed into the third grade.
Maybe the end product wasn’t quite natural, but I admire his determination and perseverance. I pray that life, mainly other people, will be kind to Peter--whether he avoids eye contact with them, or stares with ferocity. And I pray they listen to what he has to say.

In the early morning hours, I try to make eye contact with God. I confess that it is neither natural nor easy. Sometimes I use guidelines developed by others who’ve learned to do it well. Under their instructions, I may practice a certain number of seconds of concentrated gazing at the light. Then down again for a quick dip in the Scriptures. Up again to gaze (or meditate, if that’s the right word). Repeat, repeat.
I wonder if I look to God a bit like Peter. I wonder if I have some form of spiritual autism.
At any rate, I sense great patience and kindness coming to me from God’s heart.
And, yes, an occasional chuckle.

No comments:

Post a Comment