By Janet Price, Director of Admissions and Outreach, CLE Rockville

CLE staff members spoke to students in one of our social engagement groups and asked them to take some time to reflect on the concept of gratitude. Talking about feelings can be hard. Our discussion was frank, and we didn’t hold back.

What does gratitude mean to you?

AR: I’m thankful for my family, my friends, and my inner circle. We like to hang out, have fun, and talk a lot. They’re there for me when I’m having difficulties.

BR: I don’t know if it means anything different to anyone else – I’m grateful that my father is paying for CLE. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I have realized change.

CLE: We’re grateful that you’re here!

NL: I’m grateful for being able to live on my own because that’s nice. I’m grateful my parents gave me this opportunity, even though I don’t like everything about it.

PH: I’m thankful for having my own apartment.

Let’s talk a little about being on the autism spectrum, and perceptions and misperceptions. Some people wonder whether people who are on the autism spectrum have feelings like gratitude?

NL: (getting a little angry) That question perpetuates a stereotype that autism is a mental disorder. Having autism doesn’t make you emotionless!

BR: The obvious answer is yes!

How do you show gratitude?

BR: Through language – like, “Thank you very much.”

NL: Body language.

RR: It varies from person to person. I’ll be slightly less of an a** than usual.

Why show gratitude? Is this important?

NL: Because people will be nice to you in the future.

BR: It’s good to let someone know when they’ve done something good, because it’s polite, for one thing…

RR: When we demonstrate our appreciation, it makes people feel better for doing something nice for us. It makes them feel like this investment was worth it.

BR: It reflects well on yourself – it shows that you don’t take them for granted.

It sounds like this ties in with the concept of reciprocity in relationships that we’ve talked about together.

BR: Yes, but sometimes we’re going to be with people who aren’t going to reciprocate and showing gratitude shouldn’t just go out the window.

CLE: That’s a great point. We’ve also talked about the concept of “paying it forward.”

PH: There’s a movie with that title!

CLE: Do you know what it means?

NL: It means to return the favor to someone else.

TS: When I went to visit my cousin, I helped her. She was struggling with her friend who was talking about her behind her back. I taught her to stand up for herself.

RR: That’s quite something!

As the year is winding down and the holidays are approaching, what do you think has changed for the better in your life?

RR: A sense of freedom.

NL: I totally agree with that!

TS: Going to my Tuesday and Thursday classes by myself on the bus. Thankfully, Rebecca [CLE Rockville Program Assistant] helped me to do that. She showed me the bus stops and rode the bus with me.

AR: I’m thankful for living in the U.S. and going to college. I never did that before – I grew up in Sweden. I’m thankful to CLE for new friendships.