Want to listen to the kids' favorite song right now? Click ol' Elmo up there. No really... it's pretty repetitive, bouncy, kinda addictive. Okay, maybe not every trip to Waco over and over addictive, but the kids do love it. Every morning on the way to school we all four sing along. It's a rollicking, coffee-cup hoisting (you know, pub style), giggly-fun, noisy time. Best way to go to school. Ever.
This morning as we waited in the drop-off line, Ryan actually sang pretty much every word for the first time. He has trouble with the hard sounds. His mouth has trouble with the fine motor skills required to sing something or say something that fast. But over the years, we've heard this song hundreds if not thousands of times, and he's finally able to *mostly* get every word out there. And most close to pitch!
As usual, there are bittersweet parts to this achievement. It's precious, I'm proud, but just for a touch of contrast, check out what most almost-seven year old boys are into... I'm pretty sure it's not Elmo. He also loves to watch the "Meet the Orchestra" Baby Einstein video his aunt bought for him when he was tiny. He asks for it, and will sit and watch the whole thing. His three year old brother and two year old sister kinda beat him to being able to sing every word to "Elmo's Song". Just like other typically-abled kids, milestones seem to fall from the heavens and land on Richie and Maelynn. Words pop up, they picked up counting, colors, shapes, and so much just by paying attention. I'm very proud of them, too! But there is quite a contrast there. We've all worked so hard to help Ryan achieve so many milestones, but no one has worked harder than he has.
In the last few days, much has come out about people who are trusted in schools and other institutions of learning and cultivation of disabled young people. In my horror that this could happen, I jumped squarely on my Facebook soapbox and shared. The gut level reaction for me is to raise awareness of these types so that maybe, someday, something will be put into place to protect these kids in a more effective manner. Eric and I trust Ryan's life and well-being every day to the network of teachers, paraprofessionals, and students (yes, students... they care about him) at our elementary school. It makes my stomach churn and my heart ache to think that anyone would hurt him emotionally, physically, or otherwise knowing that he can't tell me. These news stories strike my fear-strings because the kids they speak of are so much like Ryan.
In my haste to post these things to make others aware of these horrors, I fear that I've forgotten something important. Kinda like leaving the house on a trip knowing you've forgotten something but can't quite figure it out... then realizing it's all your hanging clothes, or your toothbrush, or your meds... and you just have to go back for them.
I've figured out what I've been forgetting.
In the four years my child has been in school, we have had crazy-minimal problems. We had one teacher for three years in PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities). Ryan started in PPCD when he was just a few months older than three. He started out screaming and beating his head on the concrete floor most of the day, until they'd call me to get him. His teacher (H) was in her first year, and was hired not even knowing what PPCD was. In the four years she's taught there, the kids are now more included than they've ever been. They play on the playground with the other kids, they eat lunch with them, they go to music, they participate in PE. She has done such a fabulous job. She'll tell you, just like she'll tell me, that Ryan was her teacher. He's the reason she went home crying for two months... but she fell in love with him, and stuck it out. She went to workshops, devouring everything she could to learn about autism and how to best deal with kids like Ryan.
At the end of Ryan's PPCD career, we knew we wanted him to go to kindergarten, but we were scared. We wanted him to have an aid, and so did everyone else. H, now pretty much his second mama, worked with me to make sure he would have the best shot possible at success.
Our prayer was that he'd have the right teacher. The right teacher is the one who wants him in her class, warts and all. I don't care if she's a first year teacher or a last-year teacher. If she WANTS him to be successful and is willing to work with him and work with us, staying in honest, open communication about what he needs and she needs from us, that's the right teacher. When L, his teacher from this year, rose up and wanted to be that teacher, our prayers were answered. This year Ryan's learned to read, got much better at writing, and has managed to learn how to be part of a regular class. The other kids in the class, as we've seen when we've dropped in for this or that, love Ryan as one of theirs and care for him, even when he's screaming his sweet head off. And, did I mention that Ryan has finished the year without an aid in the classroom for the most part?
Our paraprofessionals have loved on Ryan since day one. The only problem we've had, if you can call it a problem, is that so many wanted to snuggle and love on him and not push him as much. If there's a problem to be had, I'll take that one.
So please, when you read all the horror stories, I beg you not to lump all teachers and paras into the same group. The people we've worked with have gone above and beyond, and we are grateful for every one. I don't know what their paychecks say every month (yes, teachers get one check per month) but as far as I'm concerned, it's not enough. You can't put a price on the kind of love and care Ryan's received. You can't put a price on these people believing in him and what God made him to be, and taking time, patience, and energy to inspire and push him to reach the fullness of what he can be.
Thanks be to God over and over for H, L, and all you HOW paras. Y'all are awesomesauce.