This Week in the Classroom: The Conversation Bench

Students with autism, people with neurological disorders and people with two eyes and ears and a brain often need a place to talk.  For my students with autism, the act of conversation can be harrowing, heartwrenching and terrifying.  On a good day.  My students often must master sitting in one place, labeling the world with words and comprehending the speech of others.  Once this is done, maybe they can open themselves to the vulnerability, the hurt, the anguish and the ecstasy of  a conversation.  I’m known as a loquaciousness guy, but make no bones about it.  A true conversation with those I love – my wife, my sons, my brothers, my father or oh, god, my mother – fills me with terror.  I must face the person in the mirror, flaws and all.  And my partner will witness it.  I go through my life in a series of small talks, in terror of the moment it all falls down and I must converse with the ones I love.  I can only imagine the world my students bravely navigate in everyday.

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And I, the onery cuss I am, conceived and helped build them a bench to have those conversations.  This is the conversation bench.  I can’t take credit for the design.  These types of benches were popular in Victorian times.  A particular student of mine — the student with a wrench in his pocket, a messy shock of brown hair, a mass of freckles, snotty nose and the gleaming eye of one who knows so much but needs just as much — helped in every step of the process.  He picked out the busted up chairs, broke them apart, screwed the mess together and sanded like a demon.  I finished it myself because I used oil-based finishes.  The student decided to hold a contest – he made clay coins and hid them around the schoolhouse.  When found, they have been turned in for the reward.

The reward is a conversation – a real, honest-to-self, conversation.  On politics, baseball, Airsoft guns, video games, NASCAR or whatever.  Just a conversation.  A reward, a terrifying reward, for a job well done.

Make it safe & keep the rubber side down.  Have a nice conversation this week.

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