He works for microwave, shredder and sometimes gum. Not chewing the gum themselves but chewing a piece of gum for him. Sometimes he works for a laugh or cough. He likes that too. Microwaves are not allowed in the classroom since he likes burning pencils and whatever he can add to the mix. But one is secretly unplugged, hidden and pulled out for him to open the door and close it five times as a reward in the special needs classroom.
Another likes to walk constantly. So we walk with him as he may laugh, he may cry but he will stand by the door hitting it when it becomes too much. So we walk inside around the school. He is quiet, he follows and he grabs my arm making sure that I am close. Sometimes, when standing together, he places his head on my shoulder. For him, he likes his movie….a small lap top that is available to him daily with one slide after another of his family, his birthday and his special trips with brothers and sister. Though he does not watch, he listens to the music that accompanies the video. He is happy to be with his family.
As they work on daily lessons of reading and math, some will shout try again as they know the teachers familiar comment when they get it wrong. As one works on learning time, when successful with saying the correct time or number, he asks for the high five sign and the brown chair which indicates a break for him.
One young man pulls at his teeth when having a rough time, jumping up and down with his cries but when we suggest that he work, he sits proudly as the speech therapist helps him identify certain objects and says the words clearly while we cheer him on. He loves when we congratulate him. He loves when we are proud of his accomplishments. Sometimes, I wonder if he does this more for us than him.
Some severely autistic, most non-verbal, others with Downs Syndrome, some physically handicapped,come together in my summer school classroom with nurses as well. Some assistants have worked with the students before, some have not and daily we try to see beyond their smiles, their laugh, their screams and their tears.
There are fights, there are scrabbles, there are break downs and we, as staff, have changing faces, voices and eyes in the back of our heads but we continue daily to make sure they have one more day in their lives that will offer encouragement, strength and most of all, love. And we have nothing else on our minds as we pursue the day. There are no room for cell phones and other talk unless it is about those we care for in the classroom.
And as we walk together to assist them on the bus or parents cars at the end of summer school, we breathe a sigh of exhaustion, yes, but fulfillment that we have helped in ways that are not imaginable in most jobs. None of our personal problems have credence when we go to work every day….that is why we are here. Someone from the classroom turns to me and says I wonder if others know what we do and my comment ….. a gesture to the one above. She smiles…..I guess that is all that matters.