Rhema attends an incredibly special school for children with autism, and she works with a teacher 1:1 throughout her entire day. I am always blessed and amazed by their commitment to her day after day, the creative ways they teach her, the extra care they take with her.
Rhema’s flavor of autism mixed with a seizure disorder has caused her to lose skills in the past. Her teachers must not only work to teach her new skills, they are constantly running programs to reinforce appropriate behaviors and help her maintain what she’s already learned. Eye contact, joint attention, nonverbal imitation, receptive picture identification, greetings, adaptive P. E., tracing, utensil use, picture activity schedules, etc, etc, etc. It’s a LOT of work. And there are setbacks, to be sure. Yet their passion for her, their belief in her never wavers.
This month’s school newsletter contains a small picture of Rhema with her teacher Corrie at the swimming pool. Perhaps no one would catch this but a mother, but instantly I noticed Corrie’s tender hand on Rhema’s back as she guided her down the stairs and into the pool. Such a simple thing, but enough to make me want to weep with gratitude.
Years ago, I wrote of a crushing moment in the hospital (- to read it, click here) when an intern examined Rhema and asked her simple questions repeatedly. She was incapable of responding; she could not look at him or understand him.
My girl has learned to answer a question.
You have to listen closely or you might miss it. (Rhema’s been teaching me what it means to listen all her life.) Sometimes it’s barely above a whisper, often the sounds all run together.
But if you ask her, What’s your name? She can tell you. She will tell you.
Poor child, now we ask her what her name is like 82 times a day. We cannot ever hear her say it enough.
As if that’s not enough.
She has learned to answer another question. (!!!!)
If you ask her, Where do you live?, Rhema takes on the three syllable not-easy-to-say name of her town as best she can.
Her teachers did this. I can only imagine the many months of repetition, repetition, repetition and reinforcers it took to get us to this point. And words cannot convey the joy, the hope here…
I try to say thank you. I know they know they do meaningful work. But I wonder if they really know. Much like a surgeon performs a lifesaving procedure, or a firefighter carries out a rescue, this school and these teachers have had a tremendous hand in saving our little girl. They do it every day.
They take all the “No’s” and disappointments and heartbreaking moments and redeem them somehow. They hand me back my dreams for her and say, Here, just look what she can do now.
Rhema is happy, known, secure and loved by her teachers, and it has made all the difference in her learning. Just ask her.
She will tell you her name.