Every year, the elementary school hosts "Project Mania". It's almost like a junior version of a science fair, except it's not limited to science. The kids can choose any topic, and they're allowed to work alone or in a group. Whatever subject they pick, they need to talk about why it's important to them, what they knew about it before the project, what they learned, and they need to be as creative as possible with their tri-fold cardboard display.
Last year was David's first year choosing a project. We used it as an opportunity to educate people about Autism. I had David write some simple sentences about the best ways to communicate with a person who has autism - things like:
"Don't use too many words. I have trouble deciding which words to act on."
"Get me to make eye contact. It's OK to ask me to look at you when you speak."
"Say whay you mean. Don't say "Get a move on", instead say "Let's go."
"Don't get mad if I do something wrong. Say 'That's my pencil, please let go.' Then help me find my pencil."
We also included some handouts about autism-related services in the area. The display got a lot of attention, and even though it was a lot of work for me, I was glad I did it.
This year, I decided to let David decide on his topic. He didn't miss a beat when I asked him.
"Bacon?" I queried.
"Uh-huh. I like bacon."
"Should we talk about where bacon comes from?"
"It comes from the fridge." He said, matter-of-factly.
Well. Guess we did have some learning to do. So I did a bit of research, and David did some reading, and together, we put together a great display. He cut out some pictures of bacon and bacon-related products (great practice for his fine motor skills!) and helped me glue them to the board. Then he wrote some bacon information on index cards, and with some glittery arrows, we highlighted them. When it was all done, it was a wonder to behold. It also got a great reception with loads of people getting a belly laugh or exclaiming about his ingenuity. It was great.
David's Dad and a neighbor asked me the same question - why do you go to all that trouble? He certainly couldn't have done that alone, nor would he have wanted to. But for that night, David was part of the big group, marching proudly up on stage to get his participation certificate, and high-fiving anyone who offered. He was one of the kids, and glad to be there. No, he couldn't do it all by himself. But he did more than last year, and I consider that improvement. Next year, he'll do a bit more. Believe me, there were plenty of displays there that parents helped out with, or even completed entirely. It's not about that for us. For us - for him - it's about the doing of it, and the being part of the doing of it. That night, he was a part of a whole, and it was wholly wonderful.