Tonight was our year six transition evening; a chance for us to get to know the parents of the students that will join us in September and for them to get to know us. I sat there with seven sets of eyes looking at me, waffling (as I tend to do) about the way things work in the unit. And yes, it was important that they understand what food is available and how our reward system works and a hundred other things. But all I really wanted to do was reassure them that I care about their child and will do everything I can to understand them.
It isn’t hard for me to imagine what those parents were thinking and feeling tonight. For me my job will always be a little too personal, it is both my greatest strength and my biggest weakness. I will always give my all, but my decisions will never be 100% objective. I will always fight a little too hard for the rights of my students, and I’ll never be able to switch off when I walk out of the door. You see, my own daughter was diagnosed with ASD almost five years ago. I have walked in the shoes of those parents. Sat where they have, in front of teachers and tried to work out whether this one will understand her, or whether instead they will inflict on us sleepless nights, meltdowns and endless stress.
The greatest gift you can give is to understand, to be patient, to care. Sometimes our children will drive you crazy, they will railroad your lessons, hide under your desks, they will scream, they will shout, they may even tell you they hate you. We understand that, sometimes they drive us crazy too! But please, understand that they are not (most of the time at least) doing things to annoy you, they are doing them because they haven’t figured a way of handling this yet, if you help them, give them strategies to try, be patient, eventually they will get there.
In our life we have been lucky to find two lots of people who both understand and care. The first, were staff aboard the Disney Magic Cruise Ship. I remember walking into the kids’ club and being told not to worry all the staff were trained in Autism. And they had, but it was more than that, somehow on that ship my daughter found affinity with so many people. They changed our lives – both hers and mine. They showed us both that there are people who care. They gave us hope. The second are the staff at her current school. She rushes in the door at night now, desperate to tell us about her day. Her teachers will never know the difference they have made to our family, they can’t, because they didn’t see what life was like before they were in it.
I can never repay those people for the gift they have given my family, but I can pay it forward. And every day, that is what I try to do. I strive to make a difference in the lives of those I teach, in the way that others have for us. I ask myself one question: if this were my child what would I want for them?
And now, I ask you to consider that question. If that child in your classroom, the one who doesn’t quite learn in the same way as everyone else, or the one who always does everything you ask but who doesn’t quite fit in, was your child, your sibling, your niece or nephew, what would you want for them?