I once met a 5 year old autistic student going on 35. She reminded me of a truth about Autism: If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve only met one person.
This child made such an impression on me that I wrote about her previously. In that blog, I described this child as being one who had not met a stranger. When I would walk in, she would make a beeline towards me as if she saw me every school day.
The thing that was so unforgettable about her was her repetitive behavior of asking people their name over and over again. I was advised by her then teacher not to answer every single time she asked. I didn’t but my silence didn’t dissuade her from asking every half hour.
Whenever I took her to the gym or lunchroom, there wasn’t a teacher who passed by us that she didn’t go over and say hello and give a quick hug. I remember asking the teacher if the child knew every teacher on campus and she said with a smile and a wink, “She’s working on it.”
One of my most memorable moments as a substitute teacher’s aide was with this student. I still laugh recalling the time when 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.” She sure got me that time!
Recently I saw her after not having seen her for a year or two. She was in first grade and the school year was close to being over. She is out of special education and in with the general crowd. Evidently it was determined she was ready to make the transition which is no small achievement. This transition is seen as a positive step.
On that day, I was subbing for the P.E. coach’s sidekick. It took a while for me to recognize her but that was because she is growing like any other child. Her having done some growing wasn’t the only thing that had changed.
In the 45 minutes I was with her, I didn’t see her going around asking for names or any question. She sat in her spot on the gym floor without complaint. On the playground, she played by herself on the monkey bars. I went up to her and said hello. All I got was a blank stare.
My blog is not intended to be my scathing criticism of the education system. Sometimes I write my observations that have either inspired me or on the other end, haunt me. This one haunted me and I am still haunted by seeing this child as she is today vs. what she used to be.
I wasn’t surprised she was transferred out of special education. She was book smart back in kindergarten and hopefully she’s just as much so in the first grade. She’s not jumping around in class and that’s a positive thing. She doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in a gym class attended by the entire first grade. If her blending in with her peers was one of the goals, it appeared to me she reached it.
What haunted me was missing the girl I knew from a year ago. I admit I got tired of her asking my name, but it would have delighted me if she had asked me once that day. Or, at least said “hello” or something. I can only speculate as to why she wasn’t the inquisitive child she used to be. Maybe medication. Maybe having an off-day or maybe pre-occupied.
Or, maybe she learned to “pass” like I did when I was around her age so long ago.
I’ll end with a question that I have no answer yet: The extroverted little girl who hadn’t met a stranger, where did she go?
I hope she isn’t one of those in limbo.