Susan's Blog

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Paging Nyemade Washington

For the most part, I have been able either to reconnect or stay in touch with all of my kids’ teachers (the ones with whom I want to stay in touch, that is!). It astounds me how many good ones all three boys have had in the thirteen + years I have been involved in their education. Max and Ben, who go to the neighborhood school in a town that is renowned for its school system, have had all good teachers. I am not exaggerating. Their principal is retiring this year and that will be a huge loss for our town. I, whom you cannot hold back when it comes to my kids and pushing for their rights, have never had to do more than request this kid or that kid in Max and Ben’s classes. I have always been able to have faith that the teacher would be fine, and they always have been. Sometimes they have had the same teacher (Ben, several years later) and this is an added plus because I know her so well by then and it is like having another friend.

Nat, who started school at three, has had mostly wonderful teachers, and I do not use that word lightly. There have been a few total losers, too, whom I dearly hope have since left the profession. Since this is my very own bitching forum, let me say once again that there is an entire collaborative of people in west of my town for whom I wish “A Yir Of Dur” (don’t know how to spell it, it is Yiddish for “A curse on all their heads,” my late maternal grandmother’s favorite phrase for the Tsar, the cossacks, and all the many others who get their kicks preying on Jews). Well, Nat’s collaborative did not prey on Jews, but they sure as hell did not understand a little autistic boy near and dear to my heart. (See chapter 8, Hitting Bottom). These were the same folks who told me that they would not put any additional support in for Nat when a behavioral specialist proved to them that this is all it would take, and for a short time, to get Nat back on track. These were the same folks that said he could not have any behaviors if he wanted to stay there. These were the people who suspended and ultimately expelled Nat from their “special education” program because he had — gasp — special needs. One day I will have the nerve to say their names in public. Everything I have said is true; there’s even a formal complaint at the state Department of Education Program Quality Assurance that describes this in full. What I got out of it: The DOE made these folks relearn correct team meeting procedures. A slap on the wrist, you might say. Move on, you might say. Ah but you are talking to a person with (mild, under control) OCD. You are talking about a person who models herself after Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo’s mom. Did Mrs. Jumbo move on when those kids made fun of Dumbo’s ears? No, she went to elephant jail for her son’s rights. Moving on is not my specialty.

But I digress. I will always digress that way, however, because this was a wound that cannot heal. When someone messes with your kid, that is the way it is. A curse on all their heads.

Someone who did not mess with my kid, but rather, reached out and helped him in such a way that I could actually see it, was Nyemade Washington. She was a tall, strong, no-nonsense kind of woman, the kind that Nat is always attracted to (wonder why that would be?) When we visited her classroom with little four-year-old Nat, she demonstrated the behavioral approach to educating kids with autism.

She stood five feet or so away from Nat and said, “Nat, come here.”
He stood there, not doing anything, as he had always done.
She came over to him and gently but bodily moved him to where she had been. “This is ‘come here.'” She said.
She went back to where she’d been, and put him back to where he’d been. He was very alert now.
“Nat, come here.”
Nat went right over to her.

We had never seen him comply with a command before. We had never experienced him learning the meaning of words so quickly. We had never seen another person connect to him so easily. So gently. Yet it was also appealing, seeing this literally hands-on approach to teaching. It made so much sense to me, that to connect you would need to touch, to show. And clearly, she was not a cruel person. I could feel that she would never be harsh with him; she was centered and inwardly strong as well as outwardly. This was the right person to take my boy and teach him things about the world. Around six months later, he began school there.

Nyemade lasted through that year and then went on to get her PhD. She is probably running some fabulous school for the autistic somewhere by now. I wish that I could reconnect with her and tell her how wonderful she was, show her Nat and how he’s grown, how we’ve all grown. To thank her for being one of the most important people in our lives: a great teacher for my child. This is the best way I know to do that.

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