b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: school

Autism

Last Friday I subbed for the first time in a classroom for severely autistic kids. I want to say I was filled with compassion and felt like the work was meaningful, but mostly I just felt traumatized by the experience. These are children that will never be normal, that will always need help from others, that are far far far from anything resembling ‘normal.’ I felt for the parents that are filled with ambivalence for a child they both love and see as a burden. My heart was heavy. The day dragged, every little thing they did is an uphill challenge. Every single thing they did is painfully slow and difficult. It was exhausting to be around. I pitied them, found them to be pathetic, and felt ugly for feeling that way. I felt ashamed that I didn’t find the work meaningful and fun like the other women working in the classroom. I spent the weekend tormented by the experience and my thoughts and feelings.

Then I went back.

In the last 3 days I have spent in there I have been able to see these kids as more than their external behaviors. I have seen humor and subtly, frustration and anger. When they refer to autism as a spectrum, they are literally describing how unique each of the children are. Yes there are similarities, however each of the children presented a unique combination of interests, levels of interaction, intelligence and behaviors. Once I was no longer shocked by the strange sounds and movements they make and do, they became fascinating to me.

I need to understand to connect. And initially it was all so foreign, loud, strange, intrusive, that I just couldn’t process it. But it’s amazing how the strangest things can become normalized just by being exposed to it for a while. And just like that the noises they made, the arm waving and flapping, the rocking and body ticks, all faded into the background scenery, and I was able to really see them, who they are on the inside. The intelligence trapped inside a body that won’t cooperate. I also judged the program that is designed to have them restrict themselves in order to make the socially ‘normal’ feel more comfortable. I don’t have a background in any of this. And my experience amounts to a book I read (partially written by a severely autistic girl), some articles, and exactly 4 days in a classroom. But I have to wonder if all the things we were making them do was really for their benefit, or ours.

I started to really care about them, feel sad when they were sad, and feel joy when they experienced it. I started to bond, and then it ended – such is the experience of a substitute. And next week I go back to a classroom full of ‘normal’ kids. The teacher asked if I wanted to come back next time my school is on break. I’m actually considering it. I prefer to help students academically. I love watching them ‘get it.’ I feel joy when I help them understand. I know that’s my calling, my bliss, what feeds my light. And yet, this hidden world was a fascinating break from the daily grind, the rushing to and from minutia, the annoyances at mundane discomforts we take for granted. It has clarified and strengthened my gratitude for existence. I am taking them back into the rest of my life, carrying them in my heart, incorporating them into the full human experience of the world around me.

I knew that children like this existed, I just didn’t think about it in depth. I didn’t want to imagine the day by day and minute by minute struggles. I didn’t want to care. When I have seen them out in the community, I have felt uncomfortable and pity. But not anymore. I will never reduce them again. My eyes are open.

 

 

stuff

I might have nothing to say. I sit here, reviewing old writing prompts, and nothing stands out to me. Perhaps there are large, shadowy issues swimming slowly beneath the heavy ice, but I don’t feel attracted to releasing them for analysis today. Things are good. That in itself is a surprising realization. My destiny is changing, I can feel it, and things are moving forward easily, smoothly. I don’t even feel the gray cloud that usually appears over my left shoulder, the one that says, “beware the darkness is coming!” Yes, I was fearful a few weeks ago – convinced, but trying to ignore the words telling me this wasn’t going to work. Who did I think I was, deciding to change my career, and expecting it to be successful. It was a brief stalling, but my thoughts were sure it was the beginning of the end. I pressed forward anyway. Start where I am, use what I have, do what I can. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I couldn’t ignore the frightened voice, I couldn’t shake it, so I placated it by feeding it a morsel, by allowing for the possibility of “getting a real job” if things didn’t work out by the start of the school year. Then I pushed that to the very back of my mind, stuck it deep inside a drawer, and turned my focus back to steps I could take to go in the direction I really wanted. I threw myself completely into my volunteering, giving every drop of myself. Each day I would leave exhausted, but fulfilled, and filled with a warm, relaxed joy that I have not been familiar with for years. That’s telling, that’s the Universe telling, telling me this is the right path, keep going.

write about a time when a dream went up in flames

I have always been goal driven. Or rather, I had always been. When I was in high school Model United Nations, I knew I wanted a career in the UN. I would continue to study French, then in college study abroad in Paris, then graduate fluent and get a job in NYC at the UN building. Everything I did academically pointed in that direction. I even became president of MUN in college and went to the National MUN conference in NYC where I was on the Security Counsel. I was a the height of my academic career. I knew thousands of incoming freshmen because I was a counselor for orientation programs. I even knew the chancellor from participating in leadership conferences. I was close friends with many seniors. And I had a close knit group of friends (dare I say, a clique) that I did everything with outside of school.

Then came time to leave the country for Paris. I was distraught, I was a mess. I was about to fly to the opposite side of the world, alone.

To say the year was traumatic is an understatement. It was total culture shock. And even with 6 years of French classes behind me, I could barely communicate. But I worked very hard, and I began to find a rhythm there. Suddenly the year was over and it was time to return. Coming back home was even harder. That year had cracked the foundation of who I thought I was. I came back anonymous. The seniors had graduated. The freshmen forgot me. The chancellor changed. And I no longer fit in with my friends. I no longer fit my old role, and even if I had, that spot had been eliminated as the group dynamics shifted. I was lost. And I no longer wanted to work for the UN. I felt like I had wandered off my carefully tended path into the middle of a giant field of flowers surrounded by tall trees. Where was the path? I had no idea. I didn’t know in which direction to head, and so I was paralyzed, panicked and miserable.

As a result, when I graduated, I temped for a while before falling into an administrative role that paid well and was easy. And then I stayed in those kinds of jobs for 15 years, waiting for something, some kind of sign that would illuminate a new path.

Now that I look back, I see that I actually did receive that sign, 3 years after I graduated. I was moving from one administrative job to another, and my new boss (as awful as she was, micromanaging and manipulative) was the founding member of a synagogue. She saw the teacher in me, and brought in the educational director to meet me, who promptly offered me a job teaching Sunday school. Although I did not stay at that administrative job, I went on to teach Sunday school for 6 glorious years. My teaching only ended because I had my wedding to plan, then a child to have, then severe post partum depression. I didn’t go back to teaching. And I continued to look for a sign.

Well, the sign has just recently re-illuminated, pointing me again in the direction of teaching. And this time I will listen.