Lessons for this Special Needs Student

When I first started working at a local high school with  students who have special needs I wasn’t sure what to expect. Mostly they were young people with cognitive disabilities, but thrown into the mix were mental health issues and physical disabilities. I felt as though I’d found my niche, a place where my few skills were in need, a place where I would be helping teach necessary coping skills and maybe improving the quality of life for some. I’ve loved it.

But I’m discovering that these young people frequently are the teachers and I’m taking on an unexpected student role.

Take Meme. (No real names are used.)  A mere 62 pounds, fully clothed, with a host of health issues.  We speak different languages (‘cause I haven’t managed to master any of the Nepali language yet) but she reminds me that smiles and hugs are a universal language. I always know how she’s feeling by how big her smile is, how long her hug is. She teaches me a whole lot about gratitude and resilience.

Then there is Paul.  Paul has Prader-Willi syndrome and eats nonstop.  In the midst of learning about his disorder in order to help him manage, I discover something.  Paul frequently has food because he asks for it.  He has no inhibitions and will ask random strangers for a bit of food or gum or even money.  While we strive to teach him the art of tact and proper boundaries, I am amazed at the way his “needs” are met simply because he has no inhibitions about making them known.  In Paul’s case, this can be dangerous. But the reality is, sometimes we need to let go a bit of our own inhibitions and simply make known what it is we are longing for. Maybe we don’t have because we don’t make known.

And Zebulon?  He’s a perfectionist.  The slightest bit of writing error on a paper or drawing – something as simple as a pencil mark that slips below the line or a square that is not quite square causes him to melt. He crumples the paper and begins again.  He is rarely able to finish an assignment.  And I am reminded that in striving for perfection, we miss out on a whole lot of what’s really, really good; striving for perfection is a lot like trying to catch the wind: we end up empty-handed.

Patty’s lessons are on attitude. Every single time we ask her how she is doing, or how her weekend went she shouts “AWESOME!” with an ear to ear grin. Every. Single. Time. It changes the mood of those around her, her exuberance and joy.  I hope that I have that same impact on others, that my joy spills over a bit into their lives.

In PE, Donny has waited breathlessly, impatiently each day until Luke Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night to End” plays and then he throws his whole being into singing along, pretend microphone in hand, body bent, words belted out.   I’m reminded of the delight of being fully in the moment. (And I’m reminded that I’m not the only one who likes to listen to some songs over and over  🙂 )

The few with Narcissistic Personality Disorder remind me that it’s really not all about me and I need to be other focused; they remind me how ridiculous and tiring it is when I am the center of my own universe.

Lots of students and lots of lessons.

But perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve mastered is that we are all special need in some way. And just as our students have “support staff,”  I’ve got the One that I can lean upon in each and every situation.

Grateful for this wonderful life,

Marie with a 🙂



3 thoughts on “Lessons for this Special Needs Student

  1. I’m always happy to be reminded that other people, no matter who they are or what they’re about, have a lot to teach me about the person I want to be and the person I do not want to be. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My son with autism, now 29, still lives with us. And I agree completely that I have learned so much through him. Whether it’s learning different ways to communicate, trying synonyms until I find a word he knows, how to manage his frustrations, how to console. I’ve studied and learned as much as I could at different stages. I learned to advocate, speak publicly–things I could never do before. And I learned about love in ways I never could otherwise.

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