“If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” – Paulo Coelho
As I reflect on last term, the kids at school continue to keep me inspired and motivated, no matter how demanding school life gets. On the last day of term in December 2015, one of my first students, a 10 year old autistic boy, said goodbye and left the special school I work in to return to mainstream schooling. Words cannot describe how proud and inspired I am of this bright little spark just knowing that he’s going on to do great things with strength of character.
Thinking back to September 2013, I was a newbie class teacher in a small school for specific learning needs. I had a class of 9 children, aged between 7 and 9. Each child had their own unique traits and needs spanning from ASD to Fragile X; and OCD to cognitive development delay. I knew it would be a challenge to teach these children, but I also felt a sense of compassion and determination to step up and make a positive difference as their class teacher.
The boy I mentioned above was in this class. Coupled with his multiple diagnoses of autism, sensory processing difficulties, ADHD, dyslexia and fine motor difficulties; he felt alone, anxious and confused. Out of the blue he had to come to terms with the prospect of a new class teacher, different routines, an unfamiliar classroom, additional classmates, more learning expectations, transitions and he no longer had a 1:1 support assistant. For him, he had lost control of the world around him – his security blanket, and this change was initially inconceivable. At times the boy was unable to access the curriculum, let alone maintain eye contact and the feat of just keeping him calm and focussed within a learning space for any amount of time was a major task.
Over time, with the help of a multi-disciplinary team which consisted of an amazing SENCo; a scrupulous Educational Psychologist; his dynamic mentor aka special provision; and his supportive parents; things began to change for the better. With their guidance, I made various sensory, behavioural and time management resources for the boy, including social stories, a visual timetable for his desk, reward charts, an individual learning plan with specific targets, personal checklists and prompt cards. Some of the resources were made twice, with a set sent home to develop consistent communication between home and school. He also had regular sensory breaks and chill out sessions when things became overwhelming.
Getting to know him, I saw the boy as a sensitive, creative and thoughtful child with a lot of untapped potential, but unable to make his mark. In my opinion, building rapport with pupils, having a sense of empathy and making an effort to see things from their perspective, is the most important aspect of teaching. With this and having the right resources/structures/team in place, if the child is ready to make changes everything else falls into place. Fortunately for us this little boy was ready.
So over time, with a steep learning curve for me and a few hiccups along the way, we began to see gradual changes in the boy’s behaviour. He was beginning to show more of his true character at school; maintain eye contact with people he felt comfortable with; follow class routines; play with his peers; talk more about his interests; and develop his own learning style.
The following academic year, at the request of his parents, the boy moved up with me to a new class with older children and he continued to blossom. By this time he was progressing academically and socially; became a mentor to younger children; started taking piano lessons in school and home; confidently performed in our class assemblies; and even campaigned to become a school councillor. He became much more independent, vocal, inquisitive, passionate and more than ready to move back into mainstream. Such a transformation!
The thing that strikes me is no matter how tough or confusing things got, he persevered and never gave up on himself. Times were not always smooth, but with the help of his loving parents and a great team; every day the little boy would simply show up and try his best.
By working with this little boy, I learnt a great deal about what shapes and strengthens a person’s character. He managed to let go of the demons holding him back from experiencing the world around him. His diagnoses and complex profile, shows that yes, he is ‘wired-differently’ but ultimately shows that with integrity, sheer determination and heaps of courage, a person can achieve the unthinkable and be their own hero, which can take them a very long way in life.
“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” – Angela Schwindt
I still feel incredibly fortunate to have been part of his journey. I’m looking forward to experiencing many more life enchancing and character building moments.
Miss H ♥