Kara S.

Lynchburg, Virginia

Adam is "tense—" so tense in fact, that "his face...might jump right off of his head;" he dresses in an outlandish way, to say the least; he is "absolutely the strangest person one [will] ever [meet];" he is, most prominently, different. Ann M. Martin's A Corner of the Universe challenges every pre-conceived notion of the impact an autistic being may have on a young girl: a theme which has pervaded my own life in irrefutably significant ways.

While the other children scurried about the playground in third grade, I was found with Thomas: a child high on the autism spectrum. Every day he would ask (with the same eager yet detached look on his face): "Kara, do you have DirecTV DVR with TIVO?" Although he already knew the answer, it was his very asking that gave me joy. When I became sick and missed three days of school, my friend—who never interacted with any other children in favor of his nervous rocking—shrieked my name in exultation upon my return to class, leaving my bewildered teacher and several of my classmates in tears. Since then, two of my aunts have given birth to children who exhibit the same autistic tendencies, and I have similarly befriended them in a manner unlike any other member of my family.

This is not unlike the experience of Hattie Owen, the protagonist of Martin's 2003 Newbery Honor Book. A twelve year old girl in the 1960's, Hattie's life is irrevocably altered by the return of her autistic uncle from his school. She finds friendship in Adam—friendship that brings her sleepy small town life into a whirlwind of chaotic adventure. Adam's autistic eccentricities make her "giddy" and cause her to change her entire perspective on the impact she has on the world around her, even if it means "[going] against the grain."

The parallels between this and my own friendship with Thomas are what drew me to this book initially, but that alone does not explain the numerous occasions I have spent reading and re-reading it until the early hours of the morning. I am fascinated by the contrast between my cousins' ABA and DIR/Floortime therapies and Adam's veritable imprisonment in a "special school," a notable example of the progress of autism awareness since the 1960's. Hattie's ability to make a connection with a socially-delayed man mimics my own life, and reminds me how precious my autistic relatives and friends are with each page turn.

When it became time for me to choose a career path, Speech-Language Pathology became the obvious choice; this is an opportunity for me to combine my love for those with special needs and my aptitude and passion for reading and the English language. I intend to take Adam's words to heart and "lift the corners of the universe," even if it simply means bringing a momentary glimmer of hope or a hint of a smile to an autistic child by sharing the joy of communication and words.