DIXFIELD — Students at T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School learned about what it means to have respect for themselves and others who may be different from them during their Respect Matters assembly Friday.

Dirigo High School sophomore Will Hines gave his award-winning (National Speech and Debate Association) essay, “The Struggles of Autism,” about his experiences with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism disorder. He gave the speech without reading from a script.

“Oftentimes, I have trouble understanding when people are being sarcastic,” Hines said, adding people with autism often have an “inability to understand social cues.”

Dirigo High School sophomore Will Hines gives his National Speech and Debate Association-qualifying speech about his struggles with autism, during T.W. Kelly Middle School’s Respect Matters assembly in Dixfield on Friday.

He also debunked myths about those with autism, including that they are antisocial and do not feel certain emotions, such as sadness or embarrassment.

“If you know someone with autism, reach out to them,” Hines said.

A good way to begin a conversation with a person with autism is to talk about things you think they like, and “try to say kind and supportive things.”

Also, lack of eye contact from someone with autism may not necessarily mean he or she is not listening. Instead, eye contact can cause physical pain for those with the disorder, Hines said.

The middle school students learned the importance of respect for others from Officer Anne Edmunds of the Dixfield Police Department, school social worker Phillip Ramu and Principal Jason Long.

Dirigo High School sophomore Will Hines with his mother, Lisa Hutchins, following an assembly at T.W. Kelly Middle School in Dixfield on Friday. Hines performed his National Speech and Debate Association-qualifying speech about his struggles with autism.

“Treat people the way that you want to be treated,” Edmunds told the students, while Ramu encouraged them to “let your yes be yes and your no be no.”

Long read quotations about respect from baseball legend Jackie Robinson, author Maya Angelou, teacher and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and singer Taylor Swift, and explained what each of the quotes means to him.

“If you are able to have self-respect and carry a degree of love for those around you, just that genuine compassion for other people, that’s going to carry you through life,” Long said.

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