Kris Hickey’s interview with author Jonathan Friesen in the Winter 2015 YALS really resonated with me. Friesen’ groundbreaking novels have introduced us to characters with multiple personalities, autism, and Tourette Syndrome. As a teen librarian in a public library, I have worked with teens on the spectrum and it can be challenging to engage them in library activities. One young man I met several months ago, who is considered to be on the autism spectrum, joined my teen volunteer group. At first, he was quite reserved and rarely interacted with the other teens. I was worried that he might not feel welcome.
I was pleasantly surprised to watch the other teens chat with him and make him feel part of the group. He enjoyed the activities, even if they presented difficulties for him, and he is now an active member. As I began to get to know this young man, I discovered that he has a keen sense of humor, loves Minecraft, sometimes gets mad at his teacher, and hates being pressured—in other words, your average teen boy. I have learned to just let him be part of the group and not worry about whether he is participating or having difficulties with what we are doing. His mother took me aside one day, and, with tears in her eyes, described how she had looked everywhere for some social activities in the community that would welcome her son. Yes, our group was welcoming, and for that I am very grateful. But even more importantly, both the group and I have been enriched by his presence.