During the sixth grade, I unconsciously made the decision to leave the bubble. For the first time in my life, I formed a bond with someone. Like most autistic children, I had always been unable to relate to other people, but Miss Harrison, my new teacher, seemed different, and certainly nice enough when I met her on the first day of school. My bus usually arrived at the elementary school an hour early.
One morning, a few days into the new school year, I wandered into the classroom to seek refuge from the noise out on the playground. Miss Harrison sat at her desk, reading her notes for the day.
She was nicely dressed and had straight glossy auburn hair, cut shoulder-length. She looked up, tossed her head a little, and stared at me for a long moment, her forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. "May I help you?" she asked.
I gulped, unsure of what to say. "I just wanted to come in here." I looked around the classroom and spotted some model rockets on a shelf. "Do you know all about NASA and building space stations?'
She smiled, walked over, and picked up one of the model rockets. "Actually, I do know a little about such things," she said, her eyes sparkling. "Our great country is just about to send a rocket to the moon. Why, before you know it, men are going to be walking around up there all the time."
We continued to talk until the bell sounded for school to begin that day.
Then she smiled warmly and whispered to me, "Would you like to come in early again tomorrow?"
"Sure!" I said. I grinned as I took my seat.
The next morning, we resumed our debate about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It was her idea to alternate about who would take what position concerning various popular issues of the time. I enjoyed these morning discussions. I could think more clearly during this particular time of the day because my senses were less overwhelmed.
Before long, I was staying to talk after class, too. My speech difficulties were quite evident in the afternoons, but this teacher was always patient with me as I struggled to speak.
I suppose everyone has a favorite hero or heroine, whether real or imaginary, during his or her growing up years, and this teacher was mine.
On the last day of school, Miss Harrison gave me some parting advice. "Remember, Danny, you're intelligent, and you can do anything you want to do in life."
Though she may not have realized it at the time, the most important lesson that she taught me was that I could risk leaving my private world because friendship was worth the risk. I decided that it was time to confront the outside world.
I needed to know more about myself: why I was this way, and how I was different from other people. My teacher had coaxed me out of my world momentarily. it would be many years before I could stay in hers.
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