"We don't deal with kids with IEPs," the new Pre-Kindergarten teacher was told. "Once the evaluation report is complete, he will be asked to leave," explained the principal of a small Catholic school in a small community not far from ours. The little boy is "just like Kate", meaning he has a mild form of autism.
Oh. My. I could say nothing, paralyzed by confusion and sadness and anger. And so those words swirled around in my head last night. And all day today. Those words came to rest on my heart, leaving behind a heavy ache.
If I had the words, this is what I would have said to that new teacher: You will love having this little boy in your classroom. He needs structure. He needs understanding. Take the time to know him. Each interaction makes a deeper connection. He is a visual learner. Teach him through pictures. Have a picture schedule for him and review it with him each morning. Warn him in advance of transitions. Expand his play. Engage him by being silly. Provide him with lots of opportunities to interact with his peers. Show him how. Have a quiet spot in the room filled with lots of fidget toys and pillows and lotion and soft music in case he gets overwhelmed and needs to regroup. He is a really neat kid. Take the time to look at life through his eyes. It really is beautiful. Oh please, just give him a chance. Please, please, make this work. Take care of this gentle soul.
If I had the words, this is what I would have said to the principal: This little boy is a child, not a label. He likes to run and play and laugh just like any other child. He is different, not broken. It is your school and your ignorance that need to be fixed, not him. He is a child, not something to be discarded because he is deemed to be unworthy. You owe it to him and to yourself to make this work. He is a part of this community, just like you and me. His strengths and uniqueness cannot be expressed in the confines of a fifteen page document. Help him and he will show you the beauty of life.
Our children are here for a reason. They are here to teach others about tolerance, about acceptance, about unconditional love.