The big question of what I would be when I grew up was not such a big question. I’d known since before I went to school that I wanted to be a teacher. Occasionally I get an AFFIRMED stamp on that decision, and on those days my heart just sings. Last week, on Tuesday morning, October 4th at about 10:55, I had one of those moments.
I have this little guy in that Our Time music class. His name is Ben, and he’s been in class with me since before he was born. I actually think he was in class before his mother even knew she was pregnant. After he arrived on the outside of mom, he came as a tag along in a car-seat with his older brother, and when he could sit up, he came to Village (you don’t have to wait that long… come before they sit up!) and now he is coming to his second year of Our Time. So he’s less than three years old and has been in class longer than that.
Ben and I have a connection that I can’t quite explain… so when his mom came to me last fall and said Ben had been diagnosed somewhere on the Autism spectrum I was literally shocked. Not this child, who is so lively and connected, who smiles at me and hugs me and makes eye contact and snuggles into my shoulder so tight that you couldn’t slide a piece of paper between us. Nope. I couldn’t see it… ‘cause Ben and I are connected.
But I started watching him with other folks and I did notice that he only makes eye contact with his mom and me in class. He doesn’t touch anyone but the two of us, and he doesn’t really interact with the other children, and the other moms are treated like shadows on the wall. He is very interested in the activities, but on his terms. So after the shock wore off, I began to understand. It didn’t change anything, ‘cause Ben and I are, well… we’re connected.
Last week in class we we’re doing the Keel Row, just like we always do after we’ve found Lukey’s Boat (Because you dance a Keel Row on a boat- duh!) But I wanted to add a level of personal connection to the communal experience of the dance so I asked the parents to call out to the children across from them and to use the child’s name when we go in and out of the circle during the refrain. The song is highly patterned- intro, verse, refrain, interlude, verse, refrain, and interlude, verse, refrain, refrain. So, there are exactly eight times in the song where the parents were calling out the kids across from them.
Last Tuesday was a running in and out day for Ben; this means he dashes into the action, watches for second or two, or maybe longer, and then dashes back out. Sometimes back to mom, sometimes to a spot of his choosing. I know sometimes he’s watching, sometimes he’s absorbing, but not actively focused on what’s going on. During the dance he ran around the outside of the circle. I could tell he was aware of what was going on, because he knew when to back up so that no one stepped on him when we were backing out of the circle.
But what happened next was so unbelievably wonderful. As we came out of the circle for the second to the last time, Ben dashed in to the middle of the circle, threw his arms up in the air and beamed at the whole class. I took the opportunity and shouted out for everyone to say hello to Ben as we came in; I fully expected him to dash out of the circle before we got there. We all headed back in, the whole class shouting “HI BEN!” and he squealed with delight and wriggled with obvious joy, even jumping up and down a bit. And he made eye contact with a goodly percentage of the class and was a complete member of the community. My heart swelled… my eyes got teary. I blinked hard and did a Scarlet O’Hara,“ I’ll think about it another day” because we we’re about half way through class. I still had plenty of work to do and no time for tears.
So I pulled out the memory and thought it about on the way home- and I realized something really important; not only did Ben choose to make a connection with his class in a socially huge way, he knew when to do it… he knew the pattern in the song, knew it was the last chance to be a part of the dance, knew when he needed to be in the center of the circle and knew how to say “MY TURN” with out any words. I got all teary again… no matter how far away he seems sometimes, he’s not. He’s right there, and he’s getting it. This was only the 4th time we’ve done the dance in class, and he knew what the pattern was, knew this was a safe place and that he could take that leap of faith to join the community.
Today, Ben danced the WHOLE dance. Standing right next to his mom. He kicked, he went around, he went in and out- he squealed with delight, he made eye contact with other adults. When we read the “Pete and PJ” he Wishy Washy Whee’d with the group, right on time, every single time. And his WHEEEEE! was whole-heartedly spectacular.
And later, when he came to drop off his big brother for his class, he gave me the sweetest hug, with his head on my shoulder, and a pat.
-posted by Miss Allison, who says, “Here comes that stamp- AFFIRMED! I so made the right decision back when I was five and decided to be a teacher.”