Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I like the thoughtfulness of this article by a teacher noticing her own lifelong penchant for the underdog. I often wonder (and usually inquire) what draws people to the field of special education. Although it is my passion now, I never would have predicted it would become so central in our lives before learning that it affected us personally. One of the first questions I have always asked professionals who work with Reid is, "what led you to this kind of work?" Partly, I am vetting their motives. Their response also reveals to me how they perceive their work. Is it education or mere respite care? What expectations do they have of themselves and of Reid to progress? Also, I am just curious what makes them tick.

Often, our very favorite professionals have had a sibling with special needs or some personal relationship that motivated them to enter the field. Their desire, skill, training, competence and compassion were born out of inclusion and a personal connection.

Hiring (and keeping) tutors can be difficult. Reid has always been a "challenging case" with his potent combination of smarts and behavior. He tests everyone who has ever tried to play or work with him. This served to increase the turn over rate at our place during the home program heyday. He still has a way of demanding the best of everyone around him as well as revealing their weaknesses. For the willing, he provided a rigorous continuing ed course. He could dish out every avoidance tactic, maladaptive behavior, and sensory issue in the book in one quick 50 minute clinical hour. I am grateful to be looking back on those days.

I would lay awake at night wondering, "What makes some people better at this than others?" (And how will I find more of them?) We had an eclectic program wanting to incorporate ample amounts of Floortime with the obligatory ABA. Following a prescribed teacher/student script of discrete trial drills can be taught relatively easily to anyone. Engaging in child-centered play as Dr. Stanley Greenspan advocated was another matter. It had to be caught. I struggled with Serena Weider coaching me to undo much of what my parenting model had been. My husband, who is far less inhibited and more playful to begin with, was more natural at it.

Three standouts in our own personal autism intervention history were Danielle, Carla, and Michelle. (I hate leaving out Ben and Angela and Becky but, they came along later.) So, can you tell already that I liked people who were willing to become family and blur the boundaries of professionalism in our best interest?!@# I refer to 'the good old days" of early intervention when our team included that triad who met weekly in my living room until Jim rolled home for dinner. I never felt alone. We had each other and plenty of ideas to put into motion. They had energy and we had money! Clearly, people motivated by challenge were ideal. Reid was not a sit-in-the-chair and parrot back trials kinda kid. As one educational therapist said of him, "He is a mover and a shaker who needs someone who can move through life with him." I liked her.

Carla came into our lives through the dreaded school district. Despite that entree, she and I connected immediately with a sister-like chemistry. I will never forget her first session with Reid. It was basically love at first sight for him as a preschooler to have this young, fun bubbly woman woo him into turn-taking, playing "guys" and singing songs together. Since we both have curly hair, I used to joke that maybe it was the curly hair gene that was the magic touch we sought when interviewing tutors. Could it be the years of managing unruly curls that pre-qualified us for excellence in autism intervention? (I obviously think highly of my own contribution to the team, don't I?) Being curly girls made us flexible, open to the idiosyncratic, able to appreciate the beauty of going around and around in circles in Floortime play therapy. We found the beauty in it, not the frustration. I loved to hear Carla tell my son, "I love the way your mind works." But alas, there is more too it than the dominant curly gene. After all, Danielle had straight hair and she was a (little-s) savior to us. Now with the benefit of Strengthsfinder, I see that I was probably seeking out others with the Achiever theme that Jim and I share and brought to parenting. Carla's Communicator and Activator themes were well suited too. Did you know Woo is actually a Strengthsfinder theme? Of course, she has that one too. Whew who!! Empathy is another theme to seek out when hiring especially for non-verbal kiddos. Imagine how helpful it is to spend time with someone who knows how you feel before you do and can prompt you with a handy English phrase?

In addition to Reid's maneuvering, our attrition was due to the eligibility of the crew. In short order, they all seemed to run off to pursue doctorates, marriage, or babies. Such is life...it gave Reid invaluable practice in the less popular social greeting: goodbye.

Reid's current case manager, the nicest guy you could imagine from the midwest, had just finished the military when his wife asked him, "If you could do anything in the world what would it be?" He replied, "teach." Good for him. Good for us. I have less time with him as they are outside my house now, so I continue to ponder what seeds were planted in his life that grew into the tireless, hopeful, consistent teacher Reid enjoys this year.

Here is one more article about a teacher who switched from regular ed to special ed based on her attachment and "falling in love" with one student. It happens all the time, see Kiara Brinkman the teacher who wrote Up High In the Trees and You're Gonna Love this Kid by Paula Kluth. Maybe the common denominator in extraordinary teachers is their genuine appreciation of each unique soul God has created as individual and different from the next as each seashell, each star, and each snowflake.

"He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name." Psalm 147:3-5

"And in the church God has appointed...teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others..." 1 Corinthians 12:27-29

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:7-9

photo credit:www.movieweb.com

1 comment:

  1. Althouh I think there may be something to your curly girl theory...I am also struck by Angela Neve's amazing Developer strength and how much that plays a role in what makes her so sensational...