It’s that time of year again! The streets have gone eerily quiet as we adults try our hardest to wrap it up, while secretly trying to stretch it out – all while the brutal, end of season heat sucks out whatever life was left in us. The kids on the other hand have obviously gone into hiding in hopes back-to-school will not find them. Welcome to pre-Labor Day September.
As I near my 35th birthday I find that this time reminds me more of being an adult and working in a school than it does of being a kid and going to school. That means one of two things. Either I’m getting old and the closer things are, the better I remember them OR my teaching experience had a truly profound effect on me. I’m certain it is the latter.
Thirteen years ago (wow), I worked in an integrated preschool for Autistic and typically developing children. I stepped into a world I never knew existed and unbeknownst to me at the time, it was a world I would never fully depart. I’ll be candid and admit that I had never been more surprised, saddened, confused, frightened, frustrated and discouraged as I was on that first day. I had also never felt such joy, pride and love as in the days and years that followed. And it was not until I left, that I realized I had fallen so completely in love with those kids and that I was forever changed. I miss them so much and for what they did for me, I owe them some recognition.
Autism is still a mystery. To some, it is viewed as a complication, a misfortune – a puzzle as the infamous symbol depicts. And it’s hard to argue against any of those negative characterizations. But let’s take a second to say those words out loud and hear the sadness in them as they relate to children. As confusing, frustrating, exhausting, sad and unfair as Autism is for the child and their family, my time spent around those children, allowed me to see it differently and in a more positive light. Through their daily struggles (that also became my own) and their small but simultaneously monumental achievements, they opened my eyes. They taught me to be thankful for my own blessings and empathetic towards others hardships. They made me stronger (emotionally and physically) and taught me true patience. They simplified and evolved my definition of the disorder to slowly become this;
Autism – noun: A gift of an unusual but special kind. One that is impossible to guess the contents of, just by looking at it. A gift that must be handled with care due to its fragility. A gift that must be carefully studied and cautiously, slowly opened. A gift that must be loved at all times – before opening, while opening and after opening. And in some cases, it must be loved well after one has discovered the possibility that there may be nothing more left to open.
We talk about Autism as a mysterious, sad, unfortunate disorder, which it no doubt is. But I will always remember the children behind it. I will remember their amazing differences. Their quirky habits. Their tremendous pride in a single accomplishment. Their need and content for simple, repetitious days that simply are not good enough for anyone else. Their love for exploration and discovery. Their ability to love and their need to be loved back. Yes, they are all different – each one their own puzzle, but with time, patience, love and a little luck you just may find the child hiding behind the mystery. And there is no greater feeling than rescuing a soul (even if only for a moment) from the entrapment that is this mysterious disorder.
I’ve long since moved on from that job (in both professions and in miles) but that part of my life is forever with me. My biggest fear has become that they will never know the gift they gave me, that was simply them. So although it’s unlikely they will be reading this, they should know that what I learned from them has carried me through many of my days and I’d like to thank them for that.
- for confirming that life will continue to surprise me but hope can carry me.
- for teaching me dedication, how to have patience, how to be accepting, the importance of forgiveness, the meaning of self-worth and the value of humility.
- for showing me that a smile is worth a million words and proving that one word is worth the whole world.
- for showing me you can love what you once feared until you love without fear.
- for proving that you can’t learn human behavior or anyone’s story from a book.
- for teaching me that an intentional and mutually understood hug, is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
- for teaching me how uncomplicated my life really is and how in the scheme of things, we really are all so small.
I’ll never forget you. xoxo
“Her voice is a gift alone that brings tears of joy to us.”