Saturday, September 24, 2011

Special, Indeed!

Working in a public school certainly presents teachers with many challenges.  You have an odd assortment of students with many needs, and it can be fun, challenging, and down right frustrating to try and meet the needs of everyone.

I think that when people outside of the educational world hear about working with children with special needs, they don't understand what they can really be like.  A special needs child may be simply learning disabled in a particular area and need more support, or they could be someone with behavior issues such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, or other diagnoses such as Autism or Cerebral Palsy.  In one classroom, I might have a child that I need to read a test to, a child that I have to cut apart and highlight assignment parts in color, and a child that throws furniture.  It's all in a day's work.

What you don't hear is how special a special needs child can be, and how fun they are.  They may be in their own world, but often times they have fantastic personalities and you just can't help but love them.

This year, I have an autistic child that I love.  I'll call him Zach.  Zach is classically autistic.  He is extremely bothered by the slightest routine change and needs constant reassurance (and advanced warning of schedule changes).  He flaps his hands.  He is extremely repetitive in his thoughts and actions.  He has a very hard time making eye contact with you.  But Zach is very special!  I LOVE this kid.  He has the greatest personality!  It makes me so sad to think that people are unkind to children with special needs, because even in their own world, they have the greatest sense of humor and have something special about them.

At the beginning of the school year, Zach asked me to draw him a British flag.  In fact, he asked me, oh, EVERY 30 SECONDS or so.  Finally I had a moment, so I agreed to do it.  If you didn't know, the British flag is sort of a combination of the St. George's flag:

and the Scottish flag:


So I begin by drawing the easiest part of the flag, the red cross in the middle.  Zach doesn't remember that the flag has red in the middle, so he thinks that I'm drawing it incorrectly.  He immediately grabs both sides of his head and begins shrieking "Oh, no, you're doing it wrong.  This is terrible, terrible, terrible.  Oh no, it's wrong.  It's wrong.  Oh, what are we going to do?  It's supposed to be white in the middle.  Oh no no no no no."

I try to reassure Zach that it will all look normal when I keep drawing, but the more I add to the picture, the more he freaks out.  He starts rocking and says "Oh, this is terrible.  Terrible.  It's all wrong.  What are we going to do?  You owe me a million dollars.  You owe me a million dollars.  This is terrible, terrible!"

At this point, I am drawing as FAST as I can, wishing I had a picture of the UK flag to show him.  At the time, my internet wasn't working in my classroom, so I frantically email my sister.  She works on a computer, so I type her an email telling her that Zach was having a cow and could she email me, quickly, a picture of the British flag?  I didn't think Zach could read at the time (this was very early on in the school year) and I hear him yell behind me "HAVING A COW?  I'M NOT HAVING A COW!!"

So I continue drawing, and he continues pulling his hair out that he has such a dumb teacher, when my sister swoops in and saves the day with a picture of the flag.  I open it up, tell Zach the moaner to look at it, and all he says is, "Oh."

After a moment he says "Heh heh.  I was just teasing you."  And he slinks away.

I know that, to him, at that moment, the flag was a very big deal.  But I found the situation to be hilarious.

Since then, Zach has made himself my own personal body guard and he walks around not protecting me, but telling everyone that he is my body guard.  On Fridays, his schedule changes and he doesn't like it.  Beginning at about 8:10 a.m., he asks me "Is it 1:25 yet?" and continues to ask me that about every 3.4 seconds until 1:25, despite having a clock, classmates that tell him the time, and a schedule right in front of him.

Yesterday was beautiful outside, so I took my students out for extra recess.  Zach asked me if I wanted to go on a root hunt with him (looking for tree roots).  So I faithfully wandered around the playground looking for tree roots and shouting "Oh wow, Zach, that is a big one!"  At one point, I hid behind a tree and jumped out to scare him.  I then ran away with Zach chasing me, laughing his head off.  He was so happy.

He's special, all right.  And I wouldn't want him any other way.

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