Friday, May 13, 2016

An Open Letter to Chris from "Special Books for Special Kids"

I'm openly expressing my vulnerability on this issue again because it's something I'm uncomfortable with about myself and something I'm working on changing. Our world is imperfect and full of diverse individuals, and it's beautiful that way. I want to be able to give kindness, love, and patience to each one of them. Here is an email I sent today:

Hi, Chris! 
I'm a teacher who, admittedly, has some trouble with individuals with special needs. It mostly stems from lack of connection with people who have trouble communicating. If I can't tell that they're thinking or comprehending their surroundings... well, I.. it's difficult to say, so I'll just make myself do it anyway: If I can't tell that they have thoughts or are self-aware, what makes them different than animals? (More on that later.) 
Patience comes more easily for me with people who can communicate. For instance, I have students who need to get up during class and stretch their legs, students who need to make noises. We all have different needs. I saw the video of you sitting on the floor and taking off your shoes to get comfortable while giving a speech--I'm the same way! My classroom has a few desks, some floor cushions, an a few chairs, and I encourage the students to sit wherever makes them feel comfortable. I, myself, prefer to sit on the floor with my students (shoes off if possible!). I like to teach my students that they can articulate these needs so that others are aware of them and can accommodate for them. We can't give you what you need if we don't know what it is!  
But sometimes the hardest part is realizing that you HAVE a desire and figuring out how to put that into words. Last week, one of my students called a group meeting to tell her classmates that it was very distracting to her if a nervous tic made repetitive sounds, such as a shoelace tapping on the metal leg of a chair while someone is bouncing their leg. She acknowledged that the bouncing of their leg is helpful for them to concentrate, she would just prefer it if that motion didn't make noises. I thanked her for sharing and suggested that, if she asks anyone to stop doing something like this, not to take it personally. She agreed, "Yeah, it's not like I'm trying to tell you how to live your life. I just can't focus when the repetitive noise is happening." I was very proud of her for being able to articulate this, and it was helpful for everyone to hear it and understand. <3 But getting there is a long road, I know.  
A few years ago, I read an eye-opening book called The Reason I Jump. It was written by a nonverbal 13-year-old boy with autism, with the help of a computer, iirc. The writing was beautiful, deep, and awe-inspiring. The boy was able to articulate the reasoning behind his actions, sincere emotions, and even the realization that he didn't know why he did some of the things he did--all while being nonverbal! I learned a lot about myself while reading that book.  
I experienced a similar sensation during lunch today while watching a video someone linked to on Facebook, one in which you explored why a student kept asking you questions you knew he already knew the answers to. The way you reflected on what most of us would be annoyed or frustrated by nearly inspired me to tears. I adored the way you kept thinking about it until you realized that he was just trying to make a connection and have a conversation with you in the ways he knew how! 
After sharing that video, I followed the link to your page and kept watching. My next hour was an independent study with a few students, one of which I realized would like watching you, as well. He's a seventeen-year-old with two little brothers, both on the autism spectrum. He's expressed a desire to become a counselor when he grows up, so I've recently been encouraging him to use his independent study time to find more information about that field. I was right--he did love the videos as much as I did. We spent the hour watching your videos, laughing together at the silly jokes in them, and discussing the individuals we met through them. He had his phone out the entire time, because I allow my students to do so, and after the bell rang, he sincerely thanked me for sharing the page with him. When I told him I was glad he enjoyed it and thanked him for watching and discussing with me, and he said, "Yeah, I already went and followed his page. I want to watch the rest of the videos when I have time at home." 
So.. I think this is a long-winded way of saying thank you for being you and for sharing your world with the internet. You have inspired at least two more people today. <3 
And as for those individuals that I have trouble connecting with because they don't communicate in a way I understand? I'm continuing to develop my patience and ability to hear them in the way they DO communicate. Thank you.

Further resources:
-Referenced video of Chris reflecting about a student
-Referenced video of Chris's preferred way to give a speech
-Special Books for Special Needs website
-Chris's Facebook Page
-My review of The Reason I Jump