We had our county's Special Olympics Athletics event (track and field events) this past Friday. After putting together a slideshow of photos, I started looking through photos from past events, which led to just generally looking through past photos. I started reflecting on how much I adore my job and thought I'd share some of my favorite memories. These aren't really tips for teaching kids with autism, but they are reflections on teaching kids with autism, and what makes teaching kids with autism such a rewarding experience!!
Here are the five memories that stand out in my mind when I think of why I love my job.
- There is nothing like hearing a child's first words - I don't have kids of my own, but I imagine hearing your own child speak for the first time is an amazing experience. I do, however, know that the entire world stops moving when a child you've been working with for years who has never verbalized a word before speaks. One day, we were leaving art class and telling the art teacher "Bye". I had one student who was completely nonverbal (in the 4 years I'd had her in my class, she had never vocalized a sound), so we were encouraging her to sign/wave goodbye when she said "buh-bye". My parapros, the art teacher and I nearly fell down - the art teacher said "Bye!" and she said it again. That day, I walked her around the school and she said "bye" to almost everybody in the building LOL.
- Sometimes I feel like I'm not making a difference ... that nothing I do is reaching a child. One little boy had been in my class for almost 3 years and I could *not* for the life of me find a way to keep him from hitting himself (hard) in the forehead. One day, he was frustrated - he made his fist and was about to hit himself but he stopped before his fist made contact and made the sound of a race car braking ("aeerrrrrrrrk"), looked at me and said "it's OK" and put his hand down. He went from hitting himself over 60 times per day to zero by the end of that year. I don't know if it was even anything I did, but something clicked and the callus on his forehead went away. I hate that part of my job involves having to witness children harming themselves (and others) but when I am able to help them stop (or at least be there to them stop, whether or not I help) it makes me want to work that much harder to help the next child.
- One day I was struggling with a new student who was a little resistant to doing her work. Another student (who had been in my room for a few years) looked over and said "Don't fight it, student's name, Mrs. Mays always wins." Just knowing that at least one student realizes that a tantrum isn't going to get them out of doing their work makes it worth getting beat up a little while they're still learning that I'm stubborn. :-)
- Kids with autism often have sensory "issues", and some of them really prefer not to wear clothes - especially if the clothes are scratchy or tight. One year we had a group that seemed like they were always trying to take off their clothes. My parapros and I were constantly saying "We can't be naked at school", "We have to wear our shirt at school", etc. Before the holiday program, we were in the media center getting ready. I took one student behind a bookshelf to put on his shirt for the program and he grabbed the shirt he was wearing and wouldn't let me take it off to change his shirt. He looked me right in the eyes and said "Mrs. Mays - we can't wear naked at school!". See? They do listen to me sometimes!
- This last one is just a funny memory that has nothing to do with me teaching, but is a perfect example of the fact that my job is never boring. These kids make me laugh and provide experiences that I would never get in any other workplace. One day a student stood up out of the blue in the middle of class and announced to us "I'm a giant marshmallow!". I later had him repeat it so I could watch it whenever I needed to remember how adorable my kiddos are.