HAPPY AUTISM AWARENESS DAY!
At work we are all wearing blue for Light It Up Blue to support Autism Awareness. Kids with autism are by far my favorite to teach! When I changed schools, one of my biggest worries was that I had to give up my spectrum kiddos who I love so much. I was happily surprised when I discovered I still get to work with kids who have autism.
Kids with Autism make me think in new ways and look at the world from a new perspective. I get a special level of excitement when I see that I am helping them understand the world a little better. Each year on April 2nd I like to think of a kid or two with autism and how much they have grown, as well as how much they have made me grow as a teacher.
Each year I have one kid who I feel a special connection with. Each year I pick a "special project" kid who I feel no teacher has really understood, and I really want to help. This year, I knew from the very first day who my "special project" was going to be. Several other teachers had said, "he's cute, but I just don't get him!" or, "I tried, but I just can't connect with that kid!" From the moment I met this boy, I knew I could help him. I was the teacher who understood him.
When we started the year everything out of this kid's mouth came across as rude. He was incredibly blunt, contradicted everything you said, never wanted help, and just plain had the power to drive you crazy. Working with kids like him for several years helped me see that he didn't know this is what he was doing. He didn't understand what was expected or was perceived as weird or rude. It was our job to teach him these things.
We taught him to politely question things he didn't understand instead of talking back. He started to ask questions starting with "This is not me being rude, I really want to know…" and then he'd ask his question. Often these would be things like "why do you tell me to worry about myself when I ask about a kid, but then you don't just worry about yourself? You worry about everyone."Or another time, "Why did you help _____ when he got hurt? He's not very nice to you and he never listens to you. Why would you help him? He doesn't deserve for you to be nice to him."I taught him about how you can be nice to others, no matter how they treat you. He is still mystified by this concept, but he gets it a little more. Yesterday a kid bonked his head and I grabbed an ice pack. He told me "I thought your job was to teach us math and stuff. Why do you help kids who get hurt? That has nothing to do with school work." This was funny and made me laugh. The life of a teacher… it's more than just teaching.
For the last week this little guy has been totally "with it" and nearly brought me to tears of joy repeatedly! Yesterday was April Fools and he remembered my co-teacher is terrified of spiders so he put a giant plastic furry one (that he brought from home) on her desk and made her scream! After she calmed down she was so proud of him that he actually thought about her AND thought of something so clever! This kid pretty much only talks to me. He'll participate in her lessons, but will never randomly talk to her. He's definitely "my" kid.
Now for the moment that touched me the most…
Last Friday we had a board game afternoon. The kids were being really good, plus some of them suck at winning/losing games, so it was a social-emotional lesson for some of them. I was playing Sorry with multiple of my autism spectrum kiddos. This was just by coincidence since they got to pick the groups. I was able to see how they have learned to take turns, help each other, and win/lose gracefully. All of these things were a struggle when we started the year. They were doing so well, that I decided to leave the room to grab a snack from the corner store while my co-teacher watched the class.
I told the kids what I was doing and got up. Suddenly my "special project" kid said "No! Don't go!" I was very confused since the kids were doing so well. I asked him, "Why don't you want me to go? Do you want more help with the game, or do you just want me to stay with you guys?" and this was his response, "I want to keep hanging out with you! Don't go!" I assured him the corner store was in the school parking lot and I'd be back in 5 minutes, before he'd be leaving to work with a specialist. He agreed and I made sure to get back speedy quick.
I know…this seems silly to be excited over. I should explain… This munchkin generally doesn't connect with adults, and if anything tries to shoo them away. Once I did a journal prompt that said "My favorite thing about Ms. Parnello is…" and this kid told me "I don't know what to write. I don't hate you or anything, but I just don't know what to say. There isn't anything I really like. You're just you." So for this kid to beg me to stay, that was AMAZING! Plus he started holding my arm when he talks to me this week. For anyone who knows anything about autism, physical touch is a big deal!
Here's to many more years of "special project" kids and helping them to see the world in new ways while they help me to do the same.