This week I began a temporary assignment for a little girl who just started in our school's Special Education classes. "Kathy" (not her real name, to protect her privacy) is sweet and adorable. She also suffers from a condition that results in muscular degeneration. As a result, she is unable to speak, wears braces to walk, and has limited use of her arms, which will flail around uncontrollably. She also needs assistance going to the bathroom. She gets very excited around other children but tends to scare them because she shrieks, shoves her hand in her mouth and then tries to reach out with her wet hands.
While Kathy's arm movements are limited, she is still able to grab things, lightening-quick, and shove them in her mouth. Plastic play coins, toilet water, other people's food, she doesn't discriminate. I have to watch her every second and be ready to remove her hand from things she shouldn't grab. I have to dodge the drooly hand, which has slapped me and pulled my hair several times. This is not an easy task considering that I need to be close by to assist her.
I have never worked with a kid with such special needs before and I have realized several things this week:
- People who work with Special Ed kids are saints. They are there for the kids every day, all day, and they persevere and celebrate the little victories. I, on the other hand, am there for just the afternoon, and I'm physically and emotionally drained at the end of the day.
- I am not a saint, but I have more patience than I originally thought. Despite that, I could NOT do this on a full-time basis.
- Once you've changed a Pull-Up on a child, you never forgot how to do it.
My initial reaction when offered this assignment was, "Hell, no!" (I didn't actually say it out loud, of course.) I can barely stand it when my own, highly functioning, kids are moving slowly, so how was I going to do with a special-needs child?
What made me agree to do it, albeit on a trial basis, was my realization that I was scared to do this, and I do not like to be scared. I also do not like to turn down a new opportunity just because I've never done it before. Experience, be it good or bad, make you a better person, and I want to be a better person. So I said "yes."
It's been a long couple of days. This afternoon I found myself losing patience with Kathy when she refused to cooperate and kept trying to bite my hand. If it had been one of my own kids I would have tried to reason with them, threaten them, read them the riot act, or all of the above. I couldn't do this with Kathy. And then I realized she was probably exhausted from all her efforts in walking, eating, learning, just being. So I took a deep breath, gave up on trying to get her to follow my game plan, and sat her down in her special chair. Once seated, she turned to me and gave me an adorable little smile and my impatience left me, at least for a while. I guess sometimes that's all we can ask for.
photo © Zbigniew Twardowski for openphoto.net