Being a Special Education Para Educator as well as the mother of a Special Needs offspring has taught me gratitude. You learn to be grateful for tiny things. Moreover I have come to judge students by how they treat Special Needs students and whether or not I’d pick them at what I call “The Kid Store”—you know if you just went and picked out a child. My husband laughs about this last part, but not the first.
Today I found out that I’d made a difference in someone’s life. A co-worker tracked me down and said that the health tech substitute wanted to see me. Great, I thought, am I going to have a problem taking my student to the bathroom in the health room after lunch? I wasn’t even in the ball park. “Hi, I’m Mrs. Farelli. My son is Bill. When I told him I was substituting today he told me to look you up and say hi. He graduated in 2004.” Quickly I thumbed through my mental files. They are full of cobwebs and names have never been my forte, but the minute I put the name Bill with Farelli I knew exactly who she was talking about and I broke into a big smile.
Back in 1999 I moved from the middle school level to the high school with a student who had full blown Autism. On some levels Michael was/is brilliant, but even acknowledging others was and is difficult for him and I felt at sea in a school full of great big children that were on the brink of adulthood. Michael was mainstreamed, per the insistence of his parents, so it was that we ended up in a web design class where the teacher considered us as welcome as skunks on a picnic. Having a student who jumped up to run around and flap his hands every little bit was way too weird. I knew that I was going to have to work hard to convince the teacher that even though Michael had some weird behaviors, he was pretty computer savvy and really was going to learn something. I had one thing going for me and that was Bill Farelli.
Bill sat next to Michael at a long line of computers and almost immediately I realized that he was one of those kids I’d take home from the kid store. Even though Michael seldom even made eye contact, much less talked back, Bill always talked to him. He rapidly figured out that my student had a mental list of movie titles from which he could tell you whether a movie was live-action or animated, what year it came out and what studio had produced it. He’d memorized movie catalogues. Bill would try to stump him and laugh when he couldn’t. Bill was a reason to look forward to going somewhere I felt so unwelcome. Now, all these years later, I was standing talking to this lovely boy’s mother! How lucky I felt to get to tell her how wonderful I think her son is.
“You gave him a gift at Christmas,” Mrs. Farelli said. “He’s never forgotten that.” I inwardly cringed. We are NOT supposed to give gifts to students as it can be seen as “grooming.” I don’t even remember what it was. It was probably a chocolate Santa. I do remember what I told him. I’d told Bill that if he didn’t learn one other thing in his life that he needed to know how powerful the little things we do can be, how his being a friend to my student was like a pebble being dropped into a pond and the ripples went out to touch family and friends. I guess it stuck because here I was, twelve years later, talking to his mom because he, who is now married and living in CA, had told her to look me up. See, I was right about Bill. He’s a keeper! And I guess I dropped a pebble of my own.