Getting to know Ronnie
The flickering lights gleamed by the playground pavement. They fascinated young Ronnie McAllister who headed in their direction. But then the flickering lights abruptly stopped! So, Ronnie did too. But as quickly as the lights had faded, they reappeared, so Ronnie moved toward them once more.
On each side of the flickering lights there sat a boy. The boys were rolling marbles, which caused the sun's light to reflect between them. Although they noticed Ronnie staring in their direction, the two boys remained focused on playing their game.
Now standing directly over the two boys, Ronnie continued to watch the marbles intently as they rolled across the pavement below.
One of the boys looked up and said, "Why do you keep watching our game? Don't you have anything better to do?"
Ronnie didn't respond to the boy's question.
That made the other boy angry. He stood up and said, "Can't you hear? He said don't you have anything better to do?"
With his eyes still directed at the marbles below, Ronnie answered, "Don't you have anything better to do?"
Believing that Ronnie was mocking them, the two boys yelled at him to go away and leave them alone.
Ronnie's personal aid, Miss Thornberry, who had been observing close by, walked over to see what the problem was.
As the two boys explained to Miss Thornberry and another teacher what Ronnie was doing, Miss Thornberry whispered something in the other teacher's ear. Then Miss Thornberry leaned over to Ronnie and asked him to come with her.
As Miss Thornberry took Ronnie aside, he burst into tears and began slapping the sides of his head with both hands! The children on the playground were startled by Ronnie's outburst. Miss Thornberry held Ronnie to prevent him from hitting himself any further. She calmed him down by whispering softly in his ear that everything was okay.
In addition to being Ronnie's first day at his new school, it was also Miss Thornberry's as well. And since the episode on the playground had just occurred, Miss Thornberry knew it was the appropriate time to speak with Ronnie's classmates about Autism. So later that afternoon she visited with the children, and there were many questions that came her way.
"Why did he hit himself like that?" asked a girl in the front row of the classroom.
"First, let me explain to you that not all children with Autism hit themselves. In Ronnie's particular case, he sometimes reacts to stressful situations by crying and hitting himself, like earlier today at recess," said Miss Thornberry.
Miss Thornberry continued by asking the students if any of them knew what it was like to be the new kid at school. Four students raised their hands.
"Then you know how hard that can be," said Miss Thornberry. "Well, this is Ronnie's first day at our school, and unfamiliar surroundings are often very stressful to children with Autism."
"Why wouldn't he answer me when I asked him a question?" asked Tyler, one of the boys who had yelled at Ronnie during recess. "He just repeated what I said."
"I apologize that Ronnie upset you. But please know that he wasn't purposely ignoring you, or trying to make you angry," replied Miss Thornberry.
"So his answer was a mistake?" asked Tyler in a puzzled voice.
"Well, not a mistake," smiled Miss Thornberry. "It just means that Ronnie sometimes echoes the words and sounds that he hears back to their source."
"I'm sorry I was mean to Ronnie," said Jason, the other little boy who had yelled at Ronnie during recess. "He can play with me anytime he wants."
"Me too," said several of the other children.
"That's very kind of you. That will certainly help Ronnie feel more comfortable," said Miss Thornberry.
As Miss Thornberry continued to speak with the students about Autism, she was happy to see the connection she had made between them and Ronnie's condition.
After that first day, Ronnie did have more outbursts from time to time, but the support and understanding from his classmates helped him when he did.
Ronnie always looked forward to spending time with his friends at recess. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the slides or teeter-todders, he did, but playing marbles was by far his favorite activity. And anyone who played marbles with Ronnie knew he would only play with red ones. To him, the sun seemed to make them shine more than the rest. He liked that.
To learn more about Artie Knapp and his work, please visit him online at www.artieknapp.com.
There is no cost for SNPA members to reprint this article in their papers, provided that credit is given to Artie Knapp.
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Artie's children's stories are also widely used by many educational organizations to assist children in learning and sharpening their English.
Among Artie's writing credits are the children's books, "Stuttering Stan Takes a Stand," and "Living Green: A Turtle's Quest for a Cleaner Planet," a shortlist finalist for the national Green Earth Book Award. He is a member of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
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