It’s Friday night and we’re sitting on the floor underneath a sign that says “Neuroscience” in big block letters. I’m being given a crash course in Bakugan by a boy about 12. It’s teen/tween Aspie game night. The kids come to work on their social skills. We volunteers come to model appropriate behavior. But sometimes, it seems the roles get reversed.
“I’ll roll this blue one,” I finally say. He looks at me, genuinely concerned. “I’m sorry to ask this, but, are you color-blind? It’s gray, not blue.” Oops. Well, the thing is clearly a blue-gray, but no need to argue the point, and I correct myself.
Next, time to play a card. I’ve got a red one and a bunch of green ones. Sensing my continued bewilderment, he comes to my rescue. “If you let me see them, I promise to help you!” I gratefully hand over my cards. “You want to play this one. It makes your guy stronger.”
So we go several rounds in this fashion, he doing the decision making for the both of us, me trying my best to follow along. I keep waiting for him to quit this hopeless game in frustration. But he doesn’t. My guy beats his guy. And then again. Before long, I have a pile of three cards in front of me. “You won!” He puts out his hand to shake mine. “Good game!” “Thank you for teaching me,” I say. Left unspoken is the thought in my head, “Thank you for not quitting on me.”
The game over and the pressure off, topics of conversation finally pop into my head, and we talk a little while about how many Bakugan there are (hundreds), how he learned to play (the Internet), and which ones combine to make a giant one. He stands up, ready to scan the room for the next activity. Then, to my surprise, he grabs my hand again, and with a strong tug, helps me up to my feet from the floor. Grinning, I say thanks once again. Anyone who says Aspies aren’t well-mannered, I’ve got a kid I’d like you to meet.
As a longtime volunteer, it’s happened to me before, and I find it to be true wherever I go. I catch myself wondering who is the mentor, and who is the mentee.
Photo credit: Flickr creative commons by Neeta Lind