One City

One City

An Attempt to Communicate Pure Joy

The word “miracle” is maybe too strong. Maybe. But I’m going to use it anyway. It was a freaking miracle. I could not believe what was on the piece of paper.

There it was. Clear as day. The most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The letters A-L-E-X. All capitals, sloping downwards off the line, sloppy and all running into each other, but still – his name, written by him, right there on the paper.

I picked it up off the desk and showed it to my coworker, my eyes wide and excited. “Do you see this?” I pointed dramatically to the top of the worksheet. “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”

He squinted at the paper and paused, then said, “No way. You helped him with that.”


“No,” I replied, shaking my head emphatically. “He did it all by himself. Completely totally by himself.”

“Wow. That’s amazing!”


Alex, the 11 year old boy with autism that I work with, for the first time in his life wrote his name all by himself. This boy whose hand I’ve guided every day during group work to circle the right answers on his paper; this boy who I’ve practiced writing the letter “A” with over and over almost daily; this boy whose fingers I’ve guided to button the buttons on his shirt; he picked up a pencil and wrote his name.

I’m not sure if I can accurately communicate the pure joy I felt upon seeing this scrawl. This is a kid for whom seemingly small steps are tremendous victories over the odds against him. Any skill learned is in need of a celebration. But this. This is just…huge. I made a dozen photocopies of that worksheet. I showed it to everybody at work. I sent it home to Alex’s parents. I tacked it up on the wall of my apartment. I told all my friends about it, two or more times. And they’ll read this blog article and that will be the fourth time they hear about it. I don’t care.


No one knew that Alex was capable of this. He picked up the pencil before I did, and this time I decided to just see what he would do instead of helping him like usual (because of his poor motor control he tends to scribble violently on his paper if we don’t help guide his hand). He wrote in big, messy capital letters in a slanting slope off the line, but all the letters were there.

Since then he’s replicated it a couple of times, and he’s also produced a bunch of messy variations that resemble his name less than that original one. But we know now that he can do it, and we’re definitely going to push him to get there again.

This was an experience of pure joy. Just a moment of happiness, plain and simple. I’d like to keep reliving that moment over and over. Sometimes I replay it in my head. Maybe it’s why I’ve told so many people about it. It was sort of a high. I’d like to celebrate what human beings are capable of doing. Every time an obstacle is overcome, maybe there should be a party.

You’re cordially invited to an Alex-Wrote-His-Name Party.
Please join us in celebrating Lisa’s-First-Rent-Check Payment.
Come party with us to celebrate John finally getting over his Ex!
Mike figured out how to clean that tricky space behind the fridge – let’s celebrate!

Why not?

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posted June 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

you communicated pure joy .. and passed it on to me.. thank you!

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