Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tribute to a life changing teacher

Today is the last day of school. This would normally be a day full of angst and anxiety for me. Our son, Zane has severe autism. He is non verbal and has many behaviors that would cause the most skilled and patient teacher to run for the hills. Today I feel compelled to tell everyone what a fabulous teacher my son Zane has had this year. He attends Walnut Grove Elementary in Franklin, TN and by the grace of God has had the best school year of his life under the guidance of Mrs. Karen Wight.
I should have known this would be an extraordinary year when I was told last year that there was a second grade teacher who had actually requested to have Zane in her class. At the time last year that she requested him he had some very severe behaviors including running out of the classroom into other classrooms and disturbing classes in progress. He would also throw himself in the floor and lay there knowing that the teachers were not allowed to pick him up. Because he could not sit in his seat for more than two minutes he spent most of his day in the special ed classroom. He had no consistent method of communication. Although I was relieved that a teacher had requested him, I was hesitant because I didn't think she knew what was in store for her in the coming year.
Throughout the course of this year and the intervention of Karen Wight my son now spends most of his day in the regular classroom. He can sit in his seat for extended periods of time. He can actively participate in class through modifications put in place by Mrs. Wight. He is typing spontaneously thoughts on the computer. For the first time he is able to express some independent thoughts. She regularly takes him on walks around the school to visit other teacher's classrooms which has eliminated the running and the throwing himself in the floor. This teacher who had a classroom of 21 kids saw my son as a person not as a child with autism. She saw that he was capable of learning and she didn't stop until she found a way to make him show her what he was learning.
She was a great communicator and for the first time in Zane's academic life I actually knew what he was accomplishing on a daily basis. I cherished her e-mails and have them saved in a file. She was also journaling about her year with Zane. It is my hope that one day we can co-author a book on how to love and educate a child with autism. Here are some experts from her e-mails:
"On one last happy note, Zane and I were talking/playing on the rug today. We were goofing around with the word walls and he was spelling his name. I was lifting him up to spell Tucker and he had the sweetest smile. When we finished I told him that I knew today was a rough day for him and that tomorrow would be better. He instantly said "Yes." When I told him that I knew he was a smart little boy and that I hope tomorrow there would be better choices, he said yes again on his own. These are the moments that make it all worthwhile!"
"He had a fantastic day today! He was so focused and worked so well with me. I don’t know where to start because so many good things happened today. We worked together in math especially and he did so well. We spent a little time on money and he knows how much each coin is. He isn’t to the point of being able to add the coins up in his head that I can tell, but it’s a matter of time. He did do some two digit addition and got it right every time. Amazing. We read together for fun and he answered questions."
"As I’ve said all year, I feel that Zane has made me a better teacher by pushing me and I’m so grateful for that. It’s been an honor to have him in my class this year! "
So, usually around this time of year as I said I would be very anxious about the summer and also about getting a new teacher for next year who would have to take several months to get up to speed on Zane and his learning style. This year I received the most unexpected blessing. Mrs. Wight has made arrangements to move up to third grade and she is taking the whole class with her. She has also offered to work with Zane on her own time this summer to make sure he doesn't lose any of his skills he has acquired this year. She says that this is the most caring and compassionate class that she has ever had. I say it is due to her leadership and example and I am unbelievably moved by her decision to move to third grade and give these children another year of herself. The lives of these children and their families will be forever changed.
Raising a child with severe autism along with his sister who has mild autism is the hardest thing we have ever been tasked with. Our faith and God's divine intervention are the only things that are seeing us through this journey full of bumps, struggles and disappointments. My mom reminded me this morning that God has given us a chance through Zane to be extraordinary. If we didn't have life with autism we would just be ordinary. The Lord knows how often I get on my knees and pray for "ordinary". I am sent reminders on a daily basis that God has his hand in this and he will see us through. He is also working through us to change the lives of people who come into contact with us along the way and we are humbled.

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