She’s on the Spectrum but she doesn’t know that yet. She’s 5 years old going on 35. This kindergartner reminds me that if you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person.
Most students in the autism unit are on the shy side. As one with Asperger’s Syndrome, I am not a chatterbox either. But this child has not met a stranger. It doesn’t matter how long has it been since I’ve subbed in her class. When I walk in, she makes a beeline towards me as if she sees me every school day.
One of her repetitive behaviors is asking people their name over and over again. The teacher warned me about this the first time I had laid eyes on her. The teacher and classroom aide advised me not to answer every single time she asks. I didn’t but my silence didn’t dissuade her from asking every half hour.
When I escorted her to and from gym class, we passed by several teachers. There wasn’t a single teacher she didn’t say hello and give a hug. She knew all the teacher’s names. I’m good at remembering faces, but names? Forget it! I asked the teacher when we returned from the gym if the child knew every teacher on campus by name and she said with a smile and a wink, “She’s working on it.”
The last time I was with her class, she repeatedly asked not only my name but my mother’s name, my brother’s name, etc. Finally, I turned the tables on her and asked her what was her name. Her answer: “NOYB”. I said what??? She said, “none of your business.” Okay, she is a smart aleck too, but an adorably cute one.
On my job as a substitute teacher’s assistant, I have the privilege of working with children who inspire me. Such as inspiring me to do less complaining and more thanking.
I celebrated my 59th birthday last October. I haven’t been a hospital patient since my grandmother carried me out of the hospital into the world. Hospitals are full of children who are not so fortunate. I have crossed paths with school children who know a hospital bed as well as their own bed at home. A sweet boy who survived a transplant at five will say whenever he gets so much as a sniffle, “I’ll probably have to go to the hospital for this.” Sometimes he does.
On a P.E. assignment in the gym, I saw one of the aides with one of his wheelchair-bound students. I teased the aide in saying, “There’s my favorite fella”, while rubbing the little boy’s head. The aide said, “Hey, what about me?” I assured the aide he was a favorite but the young fella was a special one.
The aide released the youngster from his wheelchair so the youngster could crawl around. He can’t stand on his own two feet without a pair of hands holding him up. He can’t say a word but he does make his own unique noises now and then. I met him a few years ago and he walked into my heart. I always look forward to visiting his class because his smile will give my heart a lift.
He has many limitations that prevent him from being in the mainstream. The Good Lord only knows if he’ll ever say his first word or write one. The odds of him not needing the wheelchair are not good. I have often wondered why it is that I was blessed with good health and someone like my little friend can’t use his legs to walk, run, and play. I do believe with all my heart that when its time for him to leave this earth, he will go to a place where he will have no need of a wheelchair and have full use of his legs.
He has won the hearts of his classmates who all have their own challenges too. Challenges that keep them in special ed classroom for however long they need. If he drops a toy, one of them is glad to pick it up. He’s not a burden, he’s one of them.
Outside the classroom, it is different. He is sometimes met with stares. The wheelchair seems to blind their view of the boy who resides in it. If a student gets out of line with staring or laughing, he or she is in big trouble if the boy’s teacher or one of the aides are within sight or earshot.
I don’t know what my favorite fella knows about his being different. He isn’t able to talk about what is on his mind. He has to depend on others to care for him and speak for him. He seems as far as I can tell to be content in the classroom playing with toys that make noise which he puts up to his ear.
I don’t think he would want my sympathy. If he could, I think he would say that a smile would do. One shouldn’t underestimate a smile. My favorite fella’s smile inspires me to do the same.
When I began subbing as a teacher’s aide in my hometown school district, I thought that the last school I’d want to take an assignment at would be the elementary school I started attending when Lyndon Johnson was President. I have a heap of memories and not all of them are good ones. I tend to reflect more on the bad than the good. I didn’t know I had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when I was attending elementary school since I didn’t have an ASD diagnosis until after I turned 58. Since being formally introducted to my constant companion, I now reflect on those elementary school years with a different pair of lens.
After a couple of years of subbing, I did get up the nerve to take an assignment at my Alma Mater. The main part of the building and the cafeteria are still there. Of course, memories flooded back as I walked the hallways. I wondered if the classroom I was working in was one that I had spent one of my school years. My report cards had many “A”s and a few “B”s. If there was ever a “C”, I don’t recall it. I recall being the teacher’s pet in 5th grade and being such only made it a lonelier school year for me. I don’t recall any friends because I don’t recall having any.
I recently subbed for the school’s P.E. aide. It was a good day. The highlight of my visit to my alma mater was an encounter with a 6th-grade boy. The game of the day for his class was tag football. He wanted so much to play with his classmates but a brace on each leg was too much of an obstacle. He was given a football to play with by a kind classmate. He fell while trying to kick it and I walked over to help. I asked him if he wanted to play with me and he took me up on it. We played catch and then switch to kicking the ball back and forth. His braces didn’t get in the way of throwing a pass I could catch or kick a ball an honorable distance. He told me when he got tired. I could have played more but I didn’t tell him that. I hope he had as good a time playing with me as I did him.
The staff at my alma mater are so kind. So many of them are not shy about saying “hello” or “thanks for coming”. I ran into the Principal who thanked me for coming at the end of the school day. I told her that her school was my alma mater. She lit up and said, “Then, it must feel like coming home.” I nodded and told her that it is hard to believe that Lyndon Johnson was President when I started elementary school. I kind of wish I hadn’t said that. In other words, I walked right into that one. She said in a nice way, “Oh, that was a LONG time ago.” I said with a sigh, “Well, you didn’t have to put it quite that way.” This time my humor wasn’t way off. The principal of my alma mater wasn’t rolling on the floor but she wasn’t far from doing so.
Whether it is a first-grade teacher or an Ivy League professor, the beginning of the school year or semester is spent introducing students to rules and expectations. When I was growing up, rules were written in chalk on a blackboard. Now in some schools, rules are displayed on interactive whiteboards and typed out using a computer keyboard. The tools have changed, but the rules haven’t changed that much. Such as there’s still the rule that one can’t talk when the teacher is talking and that rule is still a popular one that students break.
I am a retired government employee and my post-retirement job is being a substitute teacher’s aide. I started my fourth school year in a gym class for two days. I heard the P.E. coach’s list of rules 14 times in those two days. It reminded me of playing my favorite song over and over again on my record player back when I was growing up.
The coach didn’t just read the rules out loud; she deciphered them. That was particularly helpful for those who take verbal instructions literally — word for word — a common trait for those of us on the Autism Spectrum. If she hadn’t explained them, some students might be trying to live up to something that wasn’t realistic and/or totally confused when the class was playing tag.
For instance, one of the top five was to do your BEST at ALL times. The teacher admitted that the literal meaning wasn’t realistic. She explained she wanted the kids to do their best with what they had that day. If they were in a fantastic mood with energy to match, they should be at the top of their game. If they were not up to speed, she asked they just do the best they could with whatever energy they had to give. I was glad she explained that because I wasn’t as much an eager beaver on my second day as the first day of being her sidekick.
Another one of the top five school district-wide rules was “Keep hands and objects to yourself at all times.” If taken literally, one would think it was NEVER appropriate to touch someone. That’s a good rule when students are standing in line or sitting side-by-side on the gym floor, but not when playing a game like tag where tagging is, more or less, touching someone. The coach gave examples as to when the rule applies and when it doesn’t. It’s a good rule, but the “at all times” phrase just needed deciphering.
The coach had her own dozen or so rules in a computer document that she read out loud. One of them was one that took me by surprise. I never heard of a coach having the rule of “no jackets in the gym!” The students could wear jackets to school but were not to enter the gym wearing one. Her reasoning behind this rule was that kids might get sick from getting too hot wearing a jacket while doing their exercises and playing games.
This rule gave me an uncomfortable feeling since I was in violation of it. She didn’t ask me to take it off and I didn’t volunteer to do so. I was not working in a hot-boiling gym or even a warm toasty one. It was so cold in the gym that I felt my knees shivering. I mean that LITERALLY! I assume I was given a pass since I was a substitute or maybe the 20-something old coach wouldn’t ask a thin gray-haired lady to take off her jacket.
The Gospel of John ends with stating “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25) I can’t help but wonder what the “other things” were, but I accept that what is recorded is sufficient for us to know. One can’t help but notice in reading all the four Gospels in the Bible’s New Testament that Jesus took the time to perform many a miracle. He had compassion for the blind, deaf, lame, and the leper. Such as he healed the blind beggar on the side of a road, the demon-possessed man living in a graveyard, and the woman with a bleeding illness who touched his cloak in a crowded place.
Word of his miracles spread throughout the region like wildfire. Crowds would gather when hearing that Jesus was coming to their neck of the woods. Such as in the story told in Matthew 14:13-21 where 5000 men, plus women and children, showed up traveling on foot to see the miracle worker for themselves.
As evening drew near, the disciples told Jesus that since they were in a remote place, they should send the crowds away so they could go to their villages and get something to eat. Instead of agreeing, Jesus told the disciples instead that they give the crowds something to eat. I wonder what the disciples were thinking at this point. They never imagined feeding that many people in one sitting. Besides, the only food they had on hand was a mere five loaves of bread and two fish provided by a boy according to the version of the story told in the Gospel of John. It doesn’t take much math to figure out that wouldn’t satisfy a hundred, much less five thousand.
Jesus told them to bring the food to Him and directed the people to have a seat on the grass. He took the bread and fish and looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and broke the loaves. Then He had the disciples hand out the food. The disciples and the crowd saw something amazing happen. Something they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams. The fish and loaves multiplied before their very eyes!
The crowd had plenty to eat and no one, so to speak, left the table hungry. After dinner was over (or supper as folks in the south call it), the disciples had leftovers to pick up.
Years ago, I heard a minister preach about this story. He had an interesting perspective that up until then, I had not given on this miraculous feeding. The Lord is in the business of multiplying. In this story, it was food. But it isn’t just food the Lord can multiply.
There are countless stories where the Lord has taken what a child of His does, such as an act of kindness or a display of one’s God-given talent, and multiply it many times over. After the minister finished his sermon, he then invited his daughter to sing a hymn. I don’t remember the hymn, but I do remember she had a lovely voice and her talent left an impression on me. It’s been over a decade and I still remember the minister’s lesson and the minister’s daughter putting the lesson into practice.
My own heart has been touched multiple times from observing a special talent possessed by a child with Autism. For example, a boy around ten whose drawings is stunning for one who has yet to say his first word. It does my heart good to hear a lovely girl sing who can’t yet hold a conversation. She can sing words of a song with her beautiful voice accompanied by an angelic glow on her face. I’m told she sings in the church choir. Only the Lord knows how many hearts that child has touched from the choir loft.
The Lord can take what we do, no matter how small the action may be, and have it touch multiple lives for the better. Many testimonies have been given by those whose lives were changed by an act of kindness from a fellow human being. There are testimonies of those who came to know the Lord through the witness of one person and then that one goes on to share the gospel to multitudes of people.
It so often starts with “ONE” and multiplies many times over just as the loaves and fishes so long ago.
I am a frequent Dollar Store shopper. The check-out lines are sometimes too long for my liking but I admit three or more people ahead of me is what I consider a long line. I reckon it all depends on your point of view as to what “long” or “short” is.
On one of my shopping trips as I approached the check-out line, I was relieved there was just two ahead of me. The store manager was manning the register. He was checking out a red-headed freckled-faced boy who was grinning from ear to ear. I’m guessing maybe 10-years-old. The youngster had his dollar bills ready and gave to the manager. I had my head down when I heard the manager say in a stern voice, “What are you doing?”
I did not see what happened but I saw the boy’s hands near the gadget customers use to purchase with a credit/debit card. He was probably playing with the buttons. There was what seemed like a long pause and a red-headed slim woman came up who was probably the boy’s mother. She just said to the manager two words, “He’s autistic.”
I felt like an arrow hit my heart since I’m on the Spectrum, too. The manager maybe felt an arrow in his heart, too, because he said in a softer tone, “Oh, okay.” Nothing more was said.
The boy reminded me of the students I work with as a substitute teacher’s aide. It is rewarding to work with students like this boy. It is sad, though, to hear of “shopping tales” that are such a nightmare that parents/caretakers are reluctant or give up taking their child with them shopping.
The incident replayed in my mind over and over for the remainder of the day and into the night. It took me back to my childhood when a 7-11 store manager was correcting me for something I had no idea was wrong. His stern warning left such a mark on me that I still remember it a half a century later.
I watched them walk out of the store. I dare say it wasn’t the first time she had to tell a stranger, “he’s autistic”. It probably won’t be the last either. Perhaps she had left her boy at the counter to see if he could handle paying for something all by himself. He did fine except for the last part. He just needs more practice, that’s all.
The boy didn’t drop his smile the entire time. He seemed oblivious to what had happened. I hope he has no memory of it. But I’m sure his mother did not get off so easy. She was the one who took the hit.
The nightmare happened on a day near the end of the school year for a 6th-grade boy with autism. There was something different going on at school that day. A break from their regular routine to attend a gym competition. For him, any change in routine, good or bad, can be another nightmare.
The competition was among the older grades. I was taking part by helping the coach take score. I noticed him coming in with panic written all over his face. He looked around as if he had stepped out of a car and found himself in a faraway place. His world had been thrown off kilter. I felt empathy because I had been in a similar boat many times. Routine is essential to me too. I just have coping skills he doesn’t have. I don’t think it was just the crowd, but the hustle and bustle of basketball shooting, frisbee throwing, and relay racing. There were whistles blowing and kids roaring with boos and applause.
The teacher aide recognized he was in sensory overload. She had him sit down with some of his classmates who were taking all the commotion in stride. In no less than a minute, he got up and stepped out on the gym floor spinning in circles. He made an indescribable sound but a familiar one to those in his inner circle. This is his own unique distress call when he is potentially in meltdown country. When he almost ran into a student who wasn’t steady on her feet, the teacher brought him back to the sidelines. He sat there for maybe five minutes. That was as long as he could take before getting back up and spinning once again on the floor.
This time the aide brought him back but she sat down on the floor with him. She gently rubbed his arms and hands to soothe and reassure him it was okay. Her idea worked and he calmed down enough to remain seated.
Although he could pass for a high school football player, he is a gentle soul. Even in meltdowns if he physically hurts anybody, it is himself. After the last contest, she had no problem whatsoever getting him to go back to the classroom. He was the first one in line as his class walked back. He was more than ready to return to the familiar place and resume the routine. His crowded nightmare, at least the one that day, was over.