She asked if any of the third graders knew about autism, and a few hands popped up around the classroom.
Then Kirsten Maloney asked if they knew anyone with autism. The same hands waved in the air.
The curly haired girl in orange had a friend with autism, the girl with the long brown ponytail had a cousin on the spectrum, the boy next to her had a younger brother who was in a special education class there at Vinton Elementary School.
“Trick question,” Maloney said motioning to the back of the room where her son sat. “You all know Orion.”
Orion, Maloney’s 9-year-old son, sat on his mom’s lap as she explained the autism spectrum like a rainbow with different shades of ability.
“Those are just fancy words for saying that his brain works a little differently than other people,” Maloney said.
Orion burrowed his face into his mom's shoulder as she told the class about how Orion avoids direct eye contact when he’s uncomfortable and the way he shakes his wrists when he’s frustrated.
“Excuse me,” he said, interrupting his mother. “Why are we not getting on the bus? Are you picking me up?”
This diversion from the usual schedule put Orion on edge, but Maloney gave him a kiss on the forehead and asked for patience.
She sent him back to his seat, where Miss Jen, his paraprofessional, was slipping stale Twizzlers out of a baggie. She handed them over for Orion to gnaw on, instead of chewing on the same spot on his hands.
Orion is one of 1,533 students in Lafayette School Corp. and part of the 19.5 percent who are receiving some form of special education.
He is one of four in Brittany Ristau’s third grade class at Vinton.