My First Lesson on Autism Came Too Late

Teacher Thinking

I was a teenager working my very first job. I was a child care attendant at a little mom and pop fitness center, and I had never heard of autism. To be fair, this was over twenty years ago, (yes, I admit it,) and I lived in a pretty small town. I really liked my job. I loved the kids, and if we ever had a difficult one, the time limit was only an hour and a half. I could handle any kid for an hour and a half. Then came Sam.

When Sam’s mother walked through the door I knew that I was in for a very long ninety minutes. She would take the full time, and I could hardly blame her for needing the break. Along with Sam came both and older brother and an infant. Sam’s brother, David, would always make me laugh. He was charming and always tucked his sweatpants into his socks. The infant, Max, did as infants do. Sam was a handsome boy with beautiful blonde locks, who would never look me in the eye.

The child care area consisted of two small rooms. No matter how many kids were in attendance, sometimes that second room would have to belong to Sam. We split the kids up, the other attendant would take the smallest kids and I would take the big ones, the ones who could handle being around Sam. Sam wasn’t violent, he just didn’t seem to know his own strength, which, for a four year old, was impressive. He would pace back and forth, and if a child was in his path, he would simply mow the child over. I knew that he wasn’t mean. I wanted so badly for the other kids to understand that, but every time it was the same. We just had to steer clear of Sam. Some times we had to call down to his mother, to pick up early if he was having a bad day. She never seemed mad, just… defeated.

Sometimes Sam would look out the window and have a little smile. I would stand next to him and look too, wondering what he saw. I wanted so badly to connect with him, I could only imagine how his mother felt. About fifteen years later, I didn’t have to imagine. My own son was diagnosed with autism.

After working at the fitness center for years, I got my associate teacher certification to teach preschool. I taught for years before I had my son. Sometimes I would come across other children who would not look me in the eye. Maybe they would pace or hum. Still, I had never heard word one about autism. All of those hours in class, and not one word. The only course I got was the crash course that came along with getting a medical report.

Years later, I took a class at the local college. It was called, “exceptional needs,” and it covered many different special needs. It was considered an elective and was only offered every other semester. I needed that class. I needed it long before my son’s diagnosis. I needed it long before teaching. I needed it for Sam.

Learning about children with special needs should NOT be an elective. As an early childhood educator, you may be the first teacher a special needs child will have. They deserve a teacher who can identify a need. Teachers need tools to help the other children understand a classmate’s behavior, because those student will go on. Some special needs children will become integrated and some of those neurotypical kids will grow up. They might have children. Those children might have autism. Their crash course should not come with a medical report.

Sam would be a grown man now. I don’t know anything about him. However, I do think about him, particularly when I hear my name over the loudspeaker at the gym.

 

This post first appeared here, on RaisingJedi.

Peggy Gilpatric

Founder at Raising Jedi
Peggy Gilpatric writes for RaisingJedi and is the mother to an awesome youngling. Along with being strong in the Force, he is on the autism spectrum. Together they help others to embrace neurodiversity across the galaxy. You can also follow her on Facebook @raisingjedi.

Latest posts by Peggy Gilpatric (see all)

Related Posts

Life With Autism: Richard Mylan & His Son, Ja... Welch actor, Richard Mylan, talks about raising his autistic son, Jaco, in a recent BBC documentary. They've both come a long way since Jaco's diag...
She Has Non-Verbal Autism, But Her New Friend Unde... If you have a non-verbal child, chances are you know how hard it is for them to make friends. That's why we know you'll love this video. The mother...
To All of the Amazing Dads To show our appreciation on Father’s Day, and every day, we present these nine wonderful posts celebrating amazing Autism Dads. ...
5 Ways Being an Autism Dad Has Changed Me Most guys have a vision of what life will be like when we become a Dad.  We think about teaching our sons sports, helping them with homework, talking ...
Looking Back Now Is Easier Than Looking Forward Wa... It was strange, thinking back, how the course of our daughter's life changed in a moment. A moment that took place in a portacabin, painted with cheer...
New York City ‘Detective’ Program a Hi... If you’re planning a trip to New York City, be sure to add a stop at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn to your itinerary. The museum, open since...
12 Year Old Creates Disability App Twelve-year-old Alexander Knoll is a shining example for changing the world at any age. The tween has invented the prototype for Ability App™, an appl...
Regions Bank Rolls Out Autism-Friendly Initiatives Regions Bank, which serves 15 mostly Southern states in the U.S., has joined the growing number of businesses offering autism-friendly services and pr...
The Easiest Way to Teach Your Kid to Tie Their Sho... Kirsten Johnson, a mom in Canada, developed this simple shoe-tying method years ago, when she worked with kids on the autism spectrum. She remembered ...
The Unconditional Love He Has for His Autistic Son Bill Davis and his wife were told to put their son, Chris, who has neurological damage, physical disabilities, and a severe form of autism, in a home....
We Are All Different, Not Less Most people, including me, seem to be primed to recognise faces in inanimate objects. I know that I instinctively add a layer of social story to the t...
When Living With Your Autistic Child Becomes ̵... I went with my daughter to see a mental health advisor. Her anxiety is out of control, her sleeping is poor and her eating almost non-existent. It is ...