My Friend Ying

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” -Aristotle

To be honest, when I left for China I really had no idea what to expect. The farthest I had been prior to this adventure was Mexico! I was invited into China as an expert, as the American who specializes in a cutting-edge program for children with autism. I was the giver. The giver of knowledge, the giver of hope. I was armed with my keynote presentation, black dress and black patent leather shoes…READY to take on the world.

Little did I know that I was the one who was about to be educated. Needless to say Nanjing, China and Decatur, Georgia are VERY different in many ways. By the time I finally arrived in Nanjing, I had spent 2 whole days traveling with very little sleep, the pressure of the upcoming conference was building, the lack of communication with my family was starting to get to me  and the uncertainty of what was to come was at its peak. I found myself arriving already exhausted and ready to hide under the covers and not come out!

This was until I met my friend, Ying. It was the night we arrived and we had to attend a dinner with the translators and host. We walk into the restaurant…everything is different than expected. It looks different, it smells different, the food is different, the TOILETS are different! As i sit down at the table thinking back to everything that I was told prior to leaving….don’t drink the water, don’t eat the lettuce, don’t share food, blah, blah, blah….I felt completely overwhelmed….until Ying placed her hand on my arm and held it. I immediately felt myself start to calm. She asked what I would like to eat. She started to guide me and help me to make sense of the menu, the culture, the people. I felt her calm and confident presence and my anxiety started to wane. She ordered a few dishes for us to share. Wait..i am not supposed to share food….I feel my anxiety begin to climb again. Ying continues to hold my arm and make pleasant conversation. I begin to feel as though I can trust her. I started to feel the wall go down. I started to feel my curiosity go up. Before I know it I am sharing some super yummy, amazing food with one of my new favorite people in the world. Who knew you could get paella in China!

Pallea, Nanjing China

Upon meeting Ying and having her as a trusted guide, my perception of the uncertainty and challenges embedded within my experience in Nanjing transformed from that of fear to curiosity. As I reflect back on this experience I can’t help but think of the many individuals affected by ASD with whom I provide care for…how exhausting it must be to navigate daily life without being able to access a guide…a trusted person who can help you to make sense of the world…a translator. I am reminded of the power of RDI and its ability to transform the lives of those affected by ASD. Meeting Ying changed the experience for me. She was much more than a translator of the language. She translated the experience of Nanjing from start to finish. She is now my friend. A friend that I hope to keep for a lifetime.

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