Sunday, September 20, 2015

Never Give Up!

    When days are rough, I sometimes need to remember my own motto, "NEVER GIVE UP"! I learned this motto on the first day, of my first, full time special education teaching job way back in 1984. First jobs toward one's career are the foundation for the rest of our days until we one day retire. I'm not anywhere near retirement, nor do I want to be, but my motto still rings true, "Never Give Up."
      Today is a particularly difficult day for me tied in to difficult, weeks, months, and years. It's a personal journey that isn't at the point of sharing and doubt it ever will be. Those who know of it, tell me to "Give up". The thing is, I can't.  If I give up I'm only failing myself, failing the other, and not fulfilling my motto of, "Never Give Up"! As in my first special education job, I have often received children who appeared so lost that there was no way to help them. 
       In my first job, I taught 8 boys all under the age of 16. I was also home caretaker for four of the boys. Since this was a residential setting, this meant that I had to come to work an hour early to help the boys clean-up, get dressed, and eat breakfast. All four boys were basically non-verbal, one had a few words. They were also both self-abusive and sometimes aggressive. 
    On my first day, I went with my Principal to meet my new students. While walking through the boys' residential home unit we found one, a rather large boy, about 5'5" weighing nearly 200 pounds, kneeling on the steps leading  to the second floor, leaning on his elbows. He was jabbering in his own language. He was blocking the stairway from both directions. Since this was a locked unit, the principal simply said this is "Douglas".:" He never stays with the group. If he leaves, let him go. He'll hurt you if you don't. He can't get out the facility is locked and fenced in." I simply nodded. I wasn't agreeing with her, I was matter-of-factly processing what she said. I finished the day, meeting all of my students, and colleagues. The school had two full time teachers, and an art and physical education teacher that traveled between schools. There were numerous house mothers/aides, a cook, and two laundry persons. This was not a job for the light-hearted. This was also not a job that I ever saw myself in, but here I was and I was determined to make a difference in these kids lives. I was going to figure out "Big Doug", and make sure he became part of the group.
   That first night, I couldn't sleep. I read the boys IEPs (Individual Education Plans) carefully. It appeared that all kinds of people came in and out of these boys lives. I literally had the kids that nobody else wanted. The last teacher was let go for tying the children to chairs with shoe strings! My mind kept wandering back to Doug and what brought him here and why he did he not want to be with people. Oddly, our birthdate was the same! 
     Day two began bright and early. I had to be at school before 7:00 am. The other employees were not responsive to me. I guess they saw too many other people come and go. I found Big Doug staring out his bedroom window. He was having a full conversation, complete with hand gestures, and head shakes all by himself. He was so adorable that I had to chuckle. I gingerly approached him because I didn't want him to bolt. I simply placed my hand gently on his shoulder and listened as if I understood. He didn't flee. 
     Eventually I had all four of my boys up, cleaned and dressed. My self-abusive autistic guy scratched me up pretty good right down my neck when I removed his mitts to get him dressed. He was a tough one, but we made it through. I held Big Doug's hand all the way to the breakfast table down stairs. We made it! The table was U shaped with Doug sitting in the U against the wall so he couldn't escape. Doug would sit in his chair while eating and bounce up and down while giggling. He was precious! After the boys finished eating, I cleaned them up at the table. We then exited to go to the school house which was directly next to the residential house. Doug made a break for it when we went outside! He ran to  picnic table put his knees on the bench and his elbows on the top and carried on his one man conversations! 
    I could see Doug from my classroom window. As I worked with my students 3 or 4 at a time I watched Doug walk between the picnic table to the fence all the while carrying on a full conversation. Finally a friendly adult, face, when the Physical education teacher came. He helped me collect Doug to get him to the gymnasium for gym class. After gym class, I fed the boys lunch. We then went upstairs to their living quarters for self-help skills (Brushing and flossing teeth, combing hair, clipping finger and toe nails and washing up.) Initially, I lost Doug on the stairs everyday, on our way to the boys living quarters! After self-help skills we had another class in the school house Doug would stay glued to the stairs! At the end of my work day I would bring "my boys" to the living room in the residential house to be with their night-time recreation counselor. He too told me don'y worry about Doug, that's just him, he does this to everybody.
    I did worry, and I did think. In fact Doug is all I thought about. I couldn't give up on this kid or his peers! Giving up on any of them just wasn't an option! Days went by,some better than others. I was scratched on a daily basis by my self-abusive, autistic boy with mitts, "Henry". Henry too had horrible days where he'd get his mitts and helmet off and totally self abuse himself. He'd bang his head on the wall, poke his thumb nails into his hears and slap his face repeatedly. I'd have to restrain him and/or bring him to our padded time out room. When doing this the other boys would watch an educational video within sight in the living room. Doug would usually go the the stairs on his knees and converse with himself. I always made sure that the boys knew I was there for them too.
    Weeks went by. My plan after much thinking, was that when Doug left the group, I would take the group to him. No matter where Doug landed, inside, outside, rain, snow or shine, we'd go with our school supplies to Doug. We of course dressed weather appropriately and made sure that Doug was too! We did many lessons at the picnic table and on the stairs! 
    As months passed, Doug greeted me with a hug in the morning! It was "our special time" to chat. He'd tell me stories and I'd respond with appropriate gestures and voice inflections! He'd laugh and I'd laugh, for real, this kid was so funny and good-hearted. Eventually Doug would take my hand. On the occasions he would bolt,he would willingly come back to class. I would go get him with my hand held out and he would grasp it.  He would talk all the way to class. 

     Now for the next to best part of my saga and the reason why, "I NEVER GIVE UP." Doug went months without leaving the group. So the group was allowed to go on field trips! I passed a driving test to drive the school van. We always took an aide with us. We went to the Philadelphia Zoo, Longwood Gardens, Special Olympics, the Strasburg Railroad, The Jersey shore to my house to make a spaghetti dinner and more. Sometimes we just went out for ice cream. It didn't matter, Doug was with us! 
  The best part...Doug didn't need to be in a locked facility any more! Doug got to move on to another residential unit with out fences all the way around! His mother could come to visit and actually take him out. Doug was happy. Everyone in Doug's life was happy. I was happy too. Every now and then I would see Doug on campus and he would bolt, right to me with a great big Doug, bear hug! Then back to his group he'd go! My motto is, "NEVER GIVE UP". Small steps for some are miracles for others.