On March 20th 2015, I was honored to speak at the Harding University Partnership Elementary School's disAbilities Awareness Day. This was a very different speech than I had ever given before. Normally I speak to adults and professionals who work with people on the autism spectrum. However, this speech would be given to 5th graders. The prospect of talking to kids was nerve wracking to me at first. If I gave my normal speech that I would give to the adults, the kids would probably be confused and tune the speech out entirely.
Therefore, I had to prepare a speech that would be both informative and entertaining to 10 year-olds. In my talk I used language and terms that could be easily understood by children when explaining autism to them. Before I actually gave the speech, I had no idea of how the kids would take to it. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time preparing for it. I worked on delivering my speech in a way that would not seem boring and monotone.
In my normal speeches I talk for 20-45 minutes and use real technical terms and language, but for this speech, I used terminology that would be easy for 10-year-olds to understand. I included examples and demonstrations that involved participation from the audience. For example, when explaining how people with autism have very narrow areas of interest, I took examples from the 5th graders about what they were interested in.
My message to the kids was that you can be disabled without being in a wheelchair. I told them that having autism means that my brain works differently, not better or worse, just different. A big theme was that just because someone appears or acts different, it does not mean they are "weird". The main thing that I had hoped to impress upon all the kids there that day was to reach out to people who were different and to be their friend rather than exclude them.
I would have to say that this was one of my more successful speeches. When I took questions in the end, the 5th graders actually asked me questions that I was really impressed with. A question that really stumped me was when one of them asked me, "How did it feel when you found out you had a disability?" I had never really thought about this one before. I could tell that the kids were really engaged with my talk.
I really knew that I did well when one of the kids commented, "You are really cool!" As I had said before, speaking to kids was something I had never done before and hearing this was the highlight of my week.