Monday, October 29, 2012


So, I have this new job. I am working at an elementary school as a SPED (special education) para. It's been new. It's been different. And mostly, it's been quite a challenge. I work with fourteen different students in kindergarten, first, and fourth grade. Their needs range from struggling to learn their numbers to non-verbal autism. Much of my day is spent with one student in particular, a fourth grader with aspergers. We'll call him Nathan.

Nathan is unlike any student I've ever met. Elementary school is already way out of my comfort zone (as my degree is in secondary ed), but understanding Nathan is in another realm beyond where I thought my comfort zone ended.

Nathan loves Pokemon, his grandmother's fried chicken, and drawing. He has a Mario backpack and will be a Koopa turtle for Halloween. He laughs at simple things. He likes chocolate milk and people who are agreeable. He thrives in consistency and a highly-structured environment. Like many boys his age, he likes things that burn and crash and explode. He is also unpredictable and easily set off. He reacts strongly to things he dislikes and is royally talented at avoiding tasks. He throws books and chairs. He hits himself in the head and requires manual restraint. He screams and yells and doesn't like change or being challenged.

What I've found to be the most difficult part of my job is arriving at school, getting through the day, and not letting Nathan get to me. So often, I am nervous to be around him, not knowing what will set him off this day, I get frustrated when he refuses to do his school work, and I watch his anxious temper tantrums and can't help but feel...well...exhausted. I don't have to let Nathan control how I feel.

Is it that easy?
Do I just smile as he hucks a chair in my direction?
Do I forget about it as quickly as he does?
Is there any possible way to get through the day and still feel optimistic and whole?

I think part of my problem is that I thought that maybe...just maybe...I could be the star of my own Hollywood movie. The one where I step in as the young, fresh face in a "troubled boys" life and our relationship eliminates his problems and his tantrums dissolve into thin air.

Yes. I do this to myself.
My expectations were harshly unrealistic.

I cannot expect that Nathan will feel remorse for that day he made me cry.
I cannot expect that at the end of the school year he will miss me or remember me a year later.
I cannot expect much of anything with Nathan.
The rules with him are different.
My goals should be different too.

A successful day may be one in which Nathan has only two meltdowns, however, he is safe and he learn a few things.

Maybe a successful day means that we find something we can both giggle about.

Maybe a successful day is one in which I am useful. Even if only for documenting his behaviors all day long.

I am a professional.
I am important.
I am good at working with students.
I am capable of doing this job.
I am trusted and cared for beyond the walls of that school.

I can learn.
I can be challenged.
I can make decisions that are good for me.
I can teach myself to be happy. Even when it feels hard.

And as the poster on Nathan's wall in his cool down area says:
"I can be okay even when others are not."

The goal for both of us is the same.


Emily Shafer said...

I can relate, Heather. Some things to keep in mind that have helped me:
He cannot process the world like you can. Whether it's stress from sensory issues, social issues, or any of kind of environmental factor, he is dealing with stuff we can only imagine.
It's not your job to "fix" him. It's your job to support him and structure his environment in the safest way possible.
Remember his aggression is not about you. He most assuredly acts violently towards even the people he loves most in the world.
Just a couple ideas:
I've heard activity can help with aggression, maybe there is something active he can do when he needs to cool down?
Also, if he loves comics, you can create them here ( about anything you want, like how to act appropriately.
Most importantly, don't give up. You are resilient!

Heather said...

Thanks, Emily. These are good reminders and helpful suggestions. I appreciate it.