Reflections on Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper: There’s more going on in there than you realize

As I made my way through the book Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, I was reminded of one of my boys on the autism spectrum. I will call him Patrick.

Patrick is at what some might call the more severe end of the spectrum. For some semblance of privacy, I will not detail his characteristics, even though I have given him a pseudonym.

But a particular one is that he is nonverbal. He can make some utterances and sing some. But mostly, he relied on communication charts and devices.

The one summer, I was at his house a couple of days a week tutoring his younger brother, Paul, primarily in reading. He had been in my class the previous school year. I usually would not see Patrick unless I stayed late chatting with the boys’ mother, who was quickly becoming a friend. But every time I saw him, I would warmly greet him, even though I knew I wasn’t going to get much of a response.

Then one week, Patrick was home because he did not have summer school. Mom was keeping an eye on Patrick, ready to distract him if needed. He was quietly sitting on the sofa on the other side of the room, so his mom decided to slip down to the basement to change over the laundry. He kept an eye on what we were doing, so I kept including him in our conversation, even though I knew he would not respond.

All of a sudden, Patrick got up and came to sit at the table with us. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, just kept including him in the conversation as I continued to work with his brother.

Mom came back upstairs with a full basket of laundry. When she saw Patrick sitting at the table with us, she promptly dropped the basket on the floor. Later conversation revealed that he had never initiated contact or interaction in such a way before. I was honored.

The interactions led me to working with both boys. Paul and I continued mostly academic things. Patrick and I worked on communication in a way, some skills around the house, and just interacting.

I would often watch him as he interacted with me or was stimming in one of his many ways, often wondering what was happening inside that head. He had very definite opinions on people and things. And while some people would only see a vacant stare, I often saw wheels turning. He just didn’t know how to express what was going on up there.

Reading this book made me think of Patrick. Even if he didn’t have a photographic memory like Melody, I still feel like he has a great deal more intelligence in there than he is able to express. And I am grateful that he has parents and teachers who seem to understand this and work to meet him on his level.

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