I get choked up every time I tell the stories of…
…the year I had my first autistic student. Or the selective mute student. Or the student with physical disabilities in a wheelchair. Or the emotionally disturbed student. Or the abused student. Or the homeless student. Or the severe ADHD student. These children found a way into my heart and taught me more than I could have ever taught them the years they were a part of our class family. Here’s the thing. Twenty-nine years ago my teacher training consisted of a three credit course entitled, The Atypical Child. That’s it. The extent of my training. Well, here’s what I learned, but not in that course.
I learned that red lights, yellow lights, and green lights don’t cut it for the child that is unable to self-regulate their behavior and is terrified of bringing home a red light for fear of being locked in the dark basement to sit on the bottom step. That system found its way right into the trash where it belongs. I learned that for a child who can’t speak in Kindergarten I can honor hand gestures, smiles or frowns, and then encourage whispers to start. You never know, they might just end up with a speaking part in the school program by Fifth grade unbeknownst to their parents sitting in the audience. I learned that by just asking for a foam wedge it can be the happiest day of school for a five year old when he can join his classmates at their level on the carpet. I learned that by providing a sample of a project for a child to look at, he can create a masterpiece instead of scribbling out of frustration. I learned that a clump of Play dough or a stick of gum can be enough to calm a child allowing him to participate with his peers. I learned that a child can still believe in the magic of Christmas by getting permission to take her to see Santa after school and shop at the Dollar Store for presents for her family. I learned that by asking your colleagues to give the hugs to a child that some days I found hard to hug, she will build five extra relationships and come back to me the following year each day for her hug.
I learned a lot from those “atypical” children. The children were the university training that fell woefully short of what I really needed to know. I’m love to share their stories because every day I learn something new from the very ones I am suppose to be teaching by simply opening up my heart and loving what I do.