I had the best volunteer experience of my life today. Today was the staff appreciation lunch at Gabe’s preschool. Gabe goes to the integrated preschool in our town (integrated meaning half the students are “typically developing” children, and the other half are kids with special needs). I helped organize the lunch, and, as chair of the PTO I got to give a little speech. I brought in a visual aid– a Thomas the Tank Engine T-shirt from when Gabe first started at NECP at age 3. It was a shirt that Gabe wore every day for three weeks. (One characteristic of people with autism is that they are very, very rigid. Once they start a pattern—like wearing a specific shirt to school—it is very hard to break). When we tried to get Gabe to wear a different shirt, he would have an enormous tantrum. At that time, we did not have the skills to get him to wear something different. The reason I brought in the shirt, was to acknowledge the staff for all that they had done for giving Gabe the skills he needs to go out in the world (in this case, the ability to be flexible). And also, to acknowledge the difficult task that the staff take on when working with parents. Every day, these teachers bring difficult news to parents, and also support parents in the painstaking process of learning the skills that will help their kids grow. I concluded by remembering the Gabe who came to NECP two and half years ago. The Gabe who was small enough to fit in the Thomas shirt. The Gabe who never made eye contact. The Gabe who barely spoke. The Gabe who would have a huge tantrum at the smallest change in routine. I think of the path that that Gabe (and his parents) was on. What a huge contrast to the Gabe who is leaving NECP to go to kindergarten in the fall. All teachers at every level make a huge difference in the lives of their students. But the teachers at this school have put our entire family on a completely different path.
May 16, 2013