After silently filing into the room, I hesitantly took a seat in a small wooden chair against the wall. The rest of my peers, a small group of fifth-grade students selected for this very special mission, joined me in the back of the room. Although we carefully eyed the five little children squirming in their desks, they didn’t seem to mind or even notice our intrusion into their classroom. Before the teacher could introduce us, a piercing shriek broke the silence. I quickly turned to my right to discover the source of the noise—a small child barreling toward me with the fury of a professional wrestler! Smack. Mrs. C darted across the room just as little Albert slapped my arm with all of his might. Fortunately, Albert did not have the strength of a professional wrestler. I wasn’t hurt, but I can’t say that I was too happy either. What just happened? “Sorry Elizabeth,” Mrs. C explained, “You see…you’re sitting in Albert’s chair.”
At the age of eleven, I was selected to be a student volunteer in Mrs. C’s autistic class: my first encounter with autistic children. But it would not be my last. My name is Liz McGarry, and I am now a junior at Tufts University studying child development and psychology. I am currently working as an intern for Alternative Choices, as well as the Center for Autism Research in Philadelphia. You might be thinking, after such a violent introduction to the world of autism, what would inspire me to continue to study it and pursue a career involving autistic children? For me, it was the desire to unlock the mysteries of the disorder and to help children like Albert who have so much trouble communicating even their most basic needs.
I now know a lot more about autism than I did in fifth grade, but I still have a lot to learn. New discoveries are always being made as I race to catch up on all of the interesting articles and research that is already out there. Family and friends who know of my “autism obsession” constantly forward me news clips or articles about autism, and I love passing them on to others. I am grateful for the opportunity to use this blog to share my journey toward an autism education, as I learn more about the signs, treatments, and causes of this mysterious disorder.