My first job after graduating from college was as Mental Health worker in an Emotional Support classroom. I was responsible for writing behavior plans and monitoring progress of the students along with teaching social and life skills. My first year, most of my students were your typical ADD/ADHD kids who also came from troubled homes.
My second year was very different. I had 5 students in my room. All 5 students were on the Autistic Spectrum. All 5 had additional disabilities. The summer before school started I read everything I could about Autism. I studied and spoke with others. I had never worked with Autistic children before.
All the studying in the world couldn’t have prepared me for my new students.
I quickly learned that I had to adapt my teaching style and coping mechanisms to match each individual student. They all had their nuiances. They were a hand-full but I was very attached to these kids.
We took each day by the hour and we never knew what to expect. As much as I was teaching them, they were teaching me as well. They taught me patience and tolerance. They taught me self-control and how to let things roll of your back. Things that I carry with me to this day.
Their fifth grade graduation was very emotional for me. We had made a lot of progress with these students. To some, these goals may have seemed small and insignificant. But to us, we had crossed mountains.
One student, in particular, still holds a special place in my heart.
Jessica and I had our ups and downs. She knew how to push every single one of my buttons. If anyone tested my patience the best, it was Jessica. Jessica had a triple whammy placed upon her. She has Aspbergers, bi-polar and sensory disorder. It really took me a while to wrap my head around her disabilities and understand them. She definitely helped me in that area as she was one to let you know what was going on and how she felt.
When Graduation time rolled around, Jess was very upset. You see, the students would get dressed really fancy for graduation and she knew that was not possible for her. Aside from her disabilities, her mother was ill and had no one to take her shopping.
Did someone say shopping?
Another teacher and I offered to take Jess shopping for a dress and the proper accessories. I took this opporunity to show her a real girls’ day but also incorporated some life and social skills while we were at it. We felt the different fabrics looking from something light and “not scratchy.” After trying on dresses for over a half hour, she found the perfect one. Now it was time to really dress her up. We completed the outfit with jewelry, a hairband and shoes.
On Graduation day, I immediately teared up when Jess walked in the room. She was so proud and promptly announced to the class that she even took a shower (now, that’s another story!).
When my students walked across the stage to get their diplomas, they were beaming. I was bawling.
I don’t think I could ever explain to them just what they meant to me that year.