I have spent the year immersed in a classroom with 3 wonderful TAs, and 6 students – 4 who have autism and 2 who have Down’s Syndrome. This is what I have learned.
Forgiveness. He pinched her, and it hurt. But minutes later, he came to her for help in zipping up his jacket. Without hesitating, she jumped to his aid.
Friendship. She does not like to hold hands. But the moment she goes on a walk, she grabs hers, and holds her hand until the very end. Only the very best of friends walk together and hold hands.
Boldness. He got down on one knee at the dance, he took out the ring, and asked her to be his girlfriend. She said yes.
Humour. He pretends to drink our coffee, and gives us bunny ears when he takes a picture. He chuckles to himself, his friend chuckles with him. We all start chuckling together.
Persistence. It was May 1st. The calendar was still on April. This did not bode well. She asked and asked. Then she asked again. She pleaded and whined. She got what she wanted, and my sanity was kept in check.
Gentleness. ‘How old is Ms. Goh?’ she asked. ‘ You know how old I am.’ I responded. ‘twenty five!’ she exclaimed. She grinned and tilted her head as she gently and carefully brushed my hair out of my face.
Frustration. She asked to go to the bathroom. We could hear the muffled screaming and crying through the bathroom door. She lay on the ground, stomping her feet, releasing the frustration that she must have been feeling.
Obedience. ‘Change please!’ She said as she handed him his shorts. So he did – he immediately pulled his pants down in front of the open windows where the busses were idling.
Compassion. The wind was blowing and tears streamed down my face. ‘Uh Oh, Tears!’ she exclaimed, as she moved her hands below my glasses and gently wiped away my tears.
Remorse. She had hit her. She had hit her hard. Immediate anxiety set in, knowing that she had hurt someone that she had loved. ‘Sorry, so sorry’ she said repetitively as she blew kisses, in hopes that all would be better.
Self-control. The name written in white board marker was wiping off. It was not complete, it needed to be rubbed off completely. ‘Leave it’, they said. So she left it. But she did not forget about it.
Curiosity. There was a surprise under every day of our calendar. She grinned, hands & fingers waving in front of her face. We watched her smile gleefully as she sneakily read what was under every flap.
Mischief. ‘Hello?’ he says. He’s home – calling the school on a P.D. day. ‘Hello! How are you!?’ I ask. ‘Good!’ he responds. ‘What are you up to?’ I counter. Seconds pass, and I hear a click. The line is dead.
Enthusiasm. ‘Who would like to do the calendar today?’ I asked. She flings her hand up in the air. Waves her arm from side to side, and is just about standing up. ‘Me… ME!’ She exclaims.
Tenderness. He sat on the couch, took her hand, laced his fingers with hers and sat looking out the window.
Patience. The chocolate cupcakes that we had baked were sitting on the counter. Frosted and edible. He must have asked 10 times that day “Excuse me, may I have chocolate cake puhleaseee?”. But he waited until the next day – chocolate cupcakes, macaroni & cheese, popcorn was his reward.
Joy. He laughed and laughed. He stopped. Then he burst out into laughter again. He ran back and forth in the cafeteria. He stopped in front of the staff, waved his fingers and ran away, laughing again.
Love. ‘I have two families’ he says, ‘one at home. And one here.’
And they didn’t have to go to teacher’s college. What a year. What an incredible year.