As I sat in the corner of a classroom alone and ignored on my first day of what was supposed to be a “wonderful experience”, I began to think that maybe I had been wrong to sign-up for Psychology Practicum. I had looked forward to taking part in Practicum- a “hands-on experience” that would bring the concepts I’d been learning about in my Psychology class to life- ever since my older sister had participated in the program and told me what a wonderful experience it would be for me.
By spending an hour of my day in a classroom for mentally and physically disabled students, I imagined that I would single handedly change the lives of several children. I would teach them to count, recognize colors, and I would give them immeasurable amounts of love and attention. Visions of the lessons I would teach and the good works I was about to perform had danced in my head as I wrote my name on the Practicum sign-up list.
I could not have been more wrong about what, or who, would be taught. The first day didn’t live up to what I had envisioned the experience to be. I was placed in an elementary school class of seven boys, but they were not as affectionate as I had hoped. They didn’t shower me with hugs and kisses. In fact, they barely even acknowledged me. I could not imagine how I was going to teach them to count if they would not even tell me their names.
As I headed for my car I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Not one single boy had so much as looked at me, and I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t just stayed in Home Economics, where I could have learned to bake cookies and gotten an easy A without the burden of writing daily journal entries about a bunch of children who did not know or care about my existence. I was wrong again.
The next day their little faces looked at me when I walked in the door, but they soon resumed their games of basketball and toy cars. On Wednesday they began to warm up to me and curiously wander towards my corner. By the last day of the week a little boy named Chandler ran up when I arrived and said, “My Anna is here!” Needless to say, by the end of my first week working with those seven boys, I was in love.
The ice had been broken, and every week after that, I grew closer and closer to “my” kids as they opened up to me more and more. By the end of the semester when I got there each day the kids would not stay in their seats because they were so eager to greet me at the door.
When I would leave at least one child would always run after me and beg to come back to school with me. They may have had physical or mental handicaps, but I still marvel and the unbelievable grasp they had on what was really important in life.
Though none of the children were physically blind, they were all blind to outside appearances. Though none of them will ever be able to obtain a degree in psychology, they were all amazingly sensitive to the emotional needs of others. Though many people may pity them, they were some of the happiest, most joyful people I have ever known.
Children with special needs are amazing, but that is not to say that working with disabled kids is always an easy job. It requires lots and patience and understanding, as I learned during my time in a special- needs classroom. However, for the special people who teach, parent, and befriend such children, the rewards far outnumber to trials.
Though some days I was ready to scream when I left the classroom, my heart was completely stolen. No matter what frame of mind I was in when I entered the classroom, by the end of the hour my spirits were completely lifted. One horrible day I was on my way back to school when I recognized the vehicle of my classmate and friend Andy in a ditch surrounded by police cars.
A few days later, the boy who I had gone to school, summer camp, and church with since I was just a toddler, died. When Andy passed away everyone in our entire school was devastated. His mother was our assistant principle, and every teacher, janitor, and student knew Andy’s mischievous ways and warm grin.
Afterwards I was so sad each day when I went to class. I never mentioned anything about Andy to the boys, and even if I had told them in words they would not have been capable of comprehending what I was telling them. Somehow the boys just seemed to know that I was sad, and they knew just what to do.
During the weeks after Andy’s death the boys were on there best behavior for me; I never had a single behavior problem. I also got more hugs from them than I had gotten in the rest of the semester combined.
I do not know if Xzavier will always remember his colors, but I know that I will remember the feeling I got each time he would hugged me, or asked me to play “baket bull” with him, even though he rarely got the ball in the hoop. He taught me that no matter what your disability is you can still smile and radiate with personality.
Xzavier cannot speak because he has a tracheotomy in his throat to help him breath. However, he has taught me not to judge people by what is on the outside. The first time I saw him I saw a little boy with a chipped front tooth and an incision in his throat that sometimes leaked mucus. I no longer see the tracheotomy, but instead I see a beautiful boy who laughs uncontrollably at the mention of “calling his mom” to report that he “pooted” at snack time.
Looking past outside appearance is just one of the many lessons those boys taught me. To explain everything I learned from them would be impossible, but I do know a few things for sure. I know that they have made an impact on my life that will last forever.
I also know that no text book could have even begun to teach me the lessons I learned from them. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from seven understanding and beautiful boys. They taught me lessons no one else could have, truths that have strengthened my character for a lifetime.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.