Facilitator of An Innovative & Dynamic Autistic Support Classroom

My classroom aid and I find ourselves laughing with and often at each other. We agree that in Room 435 behaviors are wildly eccentric and enlightening. While giving our students the tools to navigate society, it is important that we can also preserve each student's intricate personality and autonomy by nurturing their strengths, interest and abilities.

Each day, we are able to enjoy the gifts our extraordinary students present. I'd like to share these gifts, hopefully opening a window in the world of students with autism. It is my goal, to let others see that students with cognitive variations have insight and abilities far beyond what many may imagine. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wilt & Blossom

It's the end of the year and we are breaking down the classroom and re-organizing for next year.   The classroom is almost completely bare except for Tilja and Audrey who are both sitting in front of the window, vibrant and beautiful.  Tilja is a peachy-pink hibiscus that was once wilting in my apartment as winter temperatures dropped.  Audrey was a dying duo of a lilly plant and some other leafy green that my roommate placed next to our trash can one day.  Originally, her name was Lola (she was a show girl).  I had brought both of these plants to school because I knew they had a change of survival in our tropical climate classroom.  For some reason, maintenance likes the temperature kept at 80 degrees and above. 

I remember how excited the students were to receive Audrey and Tilja.  Each student came up with an original name for each plant and we all voted for our favorite one.  It was Vit, who requested the job of caring for these two plants for the entire school year.   He began watering them each day and we started to see some progress.  However, when our winter break came and went, we returned to two very dilapidated plants.  At one point, it was suggested that there was no hope at all for Audrey and that she should just get tossed. 

Vit did not like this idea at all.  He told me that there was still a little green left and that he wanted to keep watering both plants.  So we agreed to keep Audrey and see what happened.  As time went on, not only did she grow, but she thrived.

Vit's thumb was not the only part of him that was green; his social skills were a bit novice.  As a freshman, transitioning to a new school, and like any other kid, he wanted friends very badly and was eager to be accepted as soon as possible.    Vit's overwhelming need for attention and validation made it difficult to make friends initially.   This caused Vit a lot of emotional distress and his behaviors fluctuated from extremely extroverted to depressed and introverted.  On several occasions, he even became physically aggressive with other students in our classroom.   We decided that Vit would benefit from counseling and soon began anger management sessions with his counselor. 

Fortunately, Vit's social skills began to develop throughout the year and he was making friends. We saw an increasing sense of empowerment as he utilized his interest in the arts.  This year alone Vit has contributed to our award winning Computer Fair project by producing original music and comic strips, auditioned and performed for the school's talent show, performed the lead role for a script written by his drama class at Barnes and Nobles and won a Black History Month Poster Contest!   Vit was also known among his peers as a phenomenal dancer.  While he had gained the support and admiration of so many, there were also students in the school who were not as friendly—haters.  ;)

Throughout the year, Vit had suffered harassment from a few students in the hallway who yelled out sexual orientation slurs.  When Vit finally reported these incidences to me, I immediately took him to the school police to identify the students.  We all wanted to make it very clear to Vit that he had the right to walk throughout the school without being harassed.   It was in the spring time when Vit 'came out' to me, expressing that he was bi-sexual.   He told me that his counselor had given him good advice: "He told me that I can be anything I want to be."   I told him that I agreed with his counselor. Since that day, we have seen Vit's self-esteem and sense of empowerment grow immensely.   His attention seeking behaviors in the classroom have diminished and he seems slightly more comfortable in his skin.  

Through this school year, Vit has experienced some wonderful successes in establishing supportive and healthy relationships and perhaps even more valuable he has learned from many of his painful failures. While Vit continues to see his counselor regularly, he has found a mentor in our classroom aid, Mama E.   The blossoming of this relationship was powerful to watch.  Initially, Vit's behaviors were hard for our classroom aid (and many others) to understand or accept.   However, with such subtle grace, they have been put together for each other's benefit.   While anyone can see how much Vit values Mama E, Mama E has often expressed to me just how much she has learned from Vit and how much she values that growth.   She tells me, “God puts us in each other's lives for a reason.”

I think that one of the most important lessons that Mama E has presented to Vit in her mentorship is that he will most likely continue to encounter struggle, perhaps even more frequently than most of us.  But she reminds Vit that we must remember a certain vocabulary word from our classroom word wall: persevere.  This is a word that every one of my students will come to know, understand and use. 

Although the word walls are down and classroom is near empty, it is the life in Audrey and Tilja that remind me of what we have all accomplished this school year.   I can assure you that Tilja, Audrey, Vit and Mama E were not the only ones to both struggle and persevere this year in Room 435.   We have all had moments of weakness and trial, and days that wilted our stems.   At the same time, we have all blossomed with great vitality.  We did not merely survive this school year, but we thrived, with the love, patience and support of Room 435. 

1 comment:

  1. You are as much a blessing to your students as they are to you


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