When people ask what it’s like to work with an autistic student I used to have a hard time putting it into words. After years of personal and professional interaction with several kids who have fallen on the spectrum, I have come up with what I think describes it best. Think rubik’s cube.
Imagine being handed this colorful, jumbled up cube. You work all day to get one side to match up. Somehow that cube gets mixed up again and you are back to square one. That is how I feel when I’ve worked with a student and we’ve made great progress only to have something trigger them and all that progress is jumbled up again. There are many days I can unscramble faster than others and some days I can’t unscramble at all. On a few rare occasions all the sides all the colors match up.
As a mom of a special needs child I can relate but I will never pretend I fully understand what you are experiencing in your everyday routine. My child has different needs. However, the fact that I am a mom of a special needs child and have a background in education that is what lead me to my current job. My job allows me the opportunity to see both sides of the story. Being an educator/mom of a special needs child I know you, the mother, need to hear certain things. I wrote a letter to you, the mom of a child with autism, because you need to know the other side of the story. You need to know during April, the month of Autism awareness, we are lighting it up blue with you.
Dear Mom of a Child with Autism,
I am a special education teachers aid. Some call me a paraprofessional, the students may call me teacher, others call me Miss, and then a few kids have been known to call me other choice names. I just call myself lucky.
Every day I go to work it is my privilege to work with several children who qualify for special services. I am usually one on one or in small groups and because of that I get to know the kids I work with very well. Some of the kids I work with have learning disabilities, some have emotional issues, and some, like your child, fall on the spectrum which can mean one, both, or none of those. Each kid brings with them their own positive attributes and their own set of challenges. Your kid included.
As a teacher’s aid it is not my responsibility to make a plan of action or set goals for your child, but it is my job to enforce and encourage. Some days are easy and some days we struggle as I am sure you are well aware of. I have no doubt you experience this at home in a varying degree of some sort. There are days we go home with big smiles and days we just go home. What your child feels, I assure you, I am feeling something very close. I strive to make that connection as do most of the other educators.
I want to shed some light on a topic that comes up often. When I share what my job is I get asked how can I do this or told I’m a better person than most when it comes to my job. Not true. I do this because I love your child. I do this because I am able to celebrate small victories and also utilize setbacks as tools to learn from. I do this because this job chose me and your kid deserves my best. Your child did not choose to be autistic but I can choose to show them positivity, compassion, and understanding. I am no hero, I am just doing what I can and what I love.
I am not alone. There are many teachers aids and special education teachers that join me in this task. We work together as part of your big village. We are here to help you, celebrate with you, cry with you, and offer any other means of support. Your child has won our hearts and because of that we work hard to provide the best education experience we are capable of giving. We’ve got your back.
April is the month of autism awareness but we are aware all year long. We know your child’s likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We notice when your child is having an off day and we get overjoyed when your child is elated by an accomplishment. We have to learn how to read your child’s mind and even with as much as we communicate we have to learn how to read your mind. The success of your child rests in how well we all work together and there is nothing that we want more than to see and celebrate that success.
So mom of an autistic child, above all else I want you to know your child is special. Your child is not special because of his/her diagnosis but they is special despite that. They are special because your child has made me and my colleagues work harder, give more, and strive to be as equally awesome as the student you send to us each day.
Thank you for giving me the honor to work with your child. Thank you for allowing me to get a peek into your world. Thank you for opening your heart and opening my heart. I am proud to go blue during April and please tell your child to shine on.
Part of Your Village