The Difference a Teacher Can Make When a Kid Has AutismLisa Quinones-Fontanez
I used to believe that a school is what you made of it, that it didn’t matter if you went to public or private school. I believed that if parents were attentive and made an effort, their child could do well and succeed in any classroom with any teacher.
It wasn’t until Norrin was diagnosed with autism that I truly understood the importance and the value of the right school and a good teacher.
Norrin has been in school since he was two years old, he had no language and was still wearing diapers. He couldn’t tell me about his day, what he had for lunch, or who he played with. Norrin is seven years old and still has trouble telling me about the little details of his day.
I think about where Norrin would be if he hadn’t been surrounded by so many loving teachers and therapists especially during the Early Intervention years.
After Norrin’s diagnosis, my husband and I looked at two schools. The first was a rented space in an old school building that was in desperate need of a facelift. The second was in a brand new building with bright white walls and framed art work.
My husband and I choose the first school, the older school. We may have been impressed with the way the newer school looked, but we loved the way the older school felt. We knew the older school was a special place, the moment we met the director. The way she interacted with Norrin, the way she reached for his hand, bent down and spoke to him at eye level.
Norrin was at that school for three years. The teachers and therapists really worked with Norrin. They helped to form sentences, follow directions, to jump, to play, to read, to use the bathroom independently and so much more. We never worried about his safety. We never had to worry about anything because the lines of communication were always open.
Then, Norrin went to Kindergarten and the lines of communication were completely broken. Norrin’s teacher had no desire to teach him. Norrin’s language was still limited, he understood that he was not wanted. He cried every single morning for a year. He completely shut down.We feared that he would regress. Our home-based therapist observed Norrin at that school and she told me, “Norrin sat quietly with his hands folded on his lap, but there is no light in his eyes. He wasn’t his usual happy self.”
It’s a horrible feeling knowing that a teacher has given up on your child.
We were able to pull Norrin out of that school and now he’s in an amazing place. Whenever I think about Norrin’s school, I feel like I won the lottery. He’s happier and much more confident. He’s talking up a storm, expressing his needs and wants more clearly and consistently. Sometimes he’s able to tell me about his day. He talks about friends at school. He tells me when he goes to speech or occupational therapy. His handwriting is getting better he’s even doing math! Norrin is a completely different kid.
And it’s because of his school, his teachers and therapists. It’s because they care. It’s because they communicate and fill in the blanks about Norrin’s day. It’s because they believe in him and they want to teach him and Norrin knows it. And when our home-based therapist observed Norrin at his new school, she called me up as soon she left and said, “I love his teacher so much, I wanted to hug her. She totally gets it. Norrin is so happy.”
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and this morning, I sent gift cards, a small fruit basket, and some croissants as a thank you. And I wish I could do more. But the reality is, there isn’t a fruit basket or gift card in the world that would be the equivalent of my gratitude.
All I can say is THANK YOU!
Thank you for seeing Norrin for the wonderful kid he is.
Thank you for telling me about his good days.
Thank you for looking beyond autism.
Thank you for focusing on what he can do.
Thank you for challenging him.
Thank you for making him feel safe, loved and wanted.
Thank you for believing in him.
Thank you for making him happy again.
Thank you for making a difference in our lives.
Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.