By Jonathan Slack, Market Research & Development Specialist, AHSS
Sometimes I feel like I have a million stories about Jennifer, my younger sister who is on the autism spectrum. In the You Are Not Alone article, My Sister the Swindler, you learned how devious she can be. Well, Jennifer is also extremely athletic – she can run across a balance beam and she is a fast runner. When she runs in a straight line (easier said than done because although she is totally capable of this, she prefers to run in zig-zags) she is about as fast as me – and I was fast enough to qualify for the New York State Champions track meet!
In 7th grade, Jennifer arrived at school at the start of the new school year. Everything was apparently going just fine, but the teacher’s aide made the mistake of telling the class that there was a brand new gym teacher. Jennifer repeated “brand new gym teacher” the whole day. In hindsight the teacher’s aide acknowledges she should have known this meant Jennifer was processing this information.
When Jennifer’s class went to gym, the new gym teacher started off the gym period by taking the class outside and having everyone run or jog a lap. Jennifer was hoping this was how the gym period was going to start. It was how the last gym teacher started his sessions off too. The class started running and Jennifer jogged slowly. The gym teacher has told my family that Jennifer caught his eye because she had perfect form but was going at a snail’s pace. It was his first day and most autistic individuals are not as manipulative as Jennifer, so he couldn’t have known that going so slowly was all part of her master plan.
As Jennifer came up to the last turn on the track, she accelerated and started running all out. The fence’s gate separating the school and the outside world was a good distance away from the turn on the track. The new gym teacher saw his career flash before his eyes. Losing a child, especially a child in the program designed for individuals with autism, is a good way to lose your job. He started running to the gate and now the race was on, but Jennifer had a head start and was already at max acceleration.
Just as Jennifer reached the gate and opened it, he slammed the gate shut and stopped her from stepping out to the world. Out of breath, panting heavily, and thankful that he would still have his job, he asked Jennifer where she was going. She responded simply, “New gym teacher, Stop and Shop.”