copied with permission from Grosse Pointe News on 5/7/09
COLUMN NAME: X-tra Special Advice
BY: Mary Beth Langan and Theodore G. Coutilish
HEADLINE: Learning from this extraordinary teacher
COPY: Call him Mr. X.
He is the best teacher Ted has ever known.
Not for his patience. He has very little. Ditto for compassion, confidence, ability to explain a topic in a different way, openness to new ideas, creativity, dedication to excellence, sensitivity, respectfulness, caring, creativity, unwavering support, willingness to help a student achieve, pride in a student’s accomplishments and passion for education. He would not win awards for his teaching style.
He does not speak. He does not listen well. He does not treat everyone fairly. He is not usually calm. He does not like learning. He usually does not try to engage his students. He does not even teach, at least not in the traditional sense.
But a finer teacher there has never been.
Who is Mr. X?
Mr. X is Andrew Langan Coutilish, our eight-year-old son affected by Fragile X Syndrome and autism.
While many people focus on the negatives, his disabilities and what he cannot do, think about him — and others like him — in another way.
Think of his abilities.
Think of his ability to instill patience. His theatrics bring out patience I never knew I had and never thought possible. It has changed how I look at everything — work, relationships, education, love.
Think of his ability to inspire new ideas. I have to do research to fix his computer follies and I could write textbooks on creative ways to fix things he breaks around the house and in the minivan.
Think of his ability to bring out humor. Sometimes the unique things he does are ridiculous. His take on life and how to navigate can be interesting to watch. Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you cry. But you always learn something and are better for it.
Think of his ability to stir creativity. Teaching him teaches you to think in innovative ways. It challenges logical thinking, emotions and behavior. As run-of-the-mill teaching styles fail, it forces you to create out-of-the-box techniques. It forces you to adapt, be flexible and open to new ideas.
Now think of those people in your life who are like Andrew. Those with whom you have not connected, may try to ignore and do not understand. Think of what you are missing — those missed opportunities to make a better you through interactions with them.
Think of what you can become.
Embrace someone with special needs. If not for them, do it for yourself. Nurture them. Connect with them. Teach them. Learn even more from them. Take the opportunity. It’s the right thing to do. You will gain more than you ever imagined.
Grosse Pointe residents Theodore G. Coutilish and Mary Beth Langan created this column to share experiences from their journey as parents of a child with Fragile X Syndrome [fragilex.org]. Send your questions or comments to email@example.com.