Click here to read the essay “Dear Parent: About THAT Kid . . .”
The essay, written by teacher Amy Murray, describes kids with different needs and the role of the teacher to protect the privacy of those children and their families. THAT kid’s behaviors cause other parents and kids to question why THAT kid gets special attention, why THAT kid is aggressive, why THAT kid comes to school late, or why THAT kid has certain accommodations, sometimes to the detriment of others in the classroom. My twin sons with autism have both been THAT kid at different times and places in their young lives.
“Yes, I’ve read it,” I said. “I know THAT kid. I know many THAT kids.”
“So do we,” the principal said softly, as she nodded. She has a calm, gentle demeanor. Her kind eyes and smile seemed to say, “I have a soft spot in my heart for THAT kid. It’s a challenge, but we do our best every day to teach and support THAT kid.”
I am THAT kid’s mom. I’m grateful for any teacher who has worked passionately on behalf of my kids and advocated for their needs. I am the squeaky wheel behind the scenes. I am the one who has gotten dirty looks from other parents. I am the one who explains my sons’ odd behaviors.
My twin boys are in eighth grade, each on different paths and in different places. Isaac attends a school solely for kids with disabilities, which has been a good place for him to grow and flourish. His class size is small, and he gets a lot of individual attention. I’m grateful he loves school because his kindergarten experience in a different school was difficult for everyone. It was a mess. He was THAT kid.
Noah had the assistance of a 1:1 paraeducator from kindergarten until sixth grade. He was THAT kid who made tremendous gains with the help of his teachers, his paraeducator, his principal, his school counselor, his speech-language pathologist, and everyone who embraced him. His behavior was never an issue, but his needs took considerable teacher time away from other learners. He was THAT kid who was academically bright, but he struggled with speech and fine motor delays. He entered kindergarten reading books but wearing diapers.
I am grateful for the teachers and other school staff who have worked with THAT kid. I appreciate anyone who has shown our family support and compassion.It's not easy being THAT kid. It's not easy working with THAT kid. I applaud you.
*I am grateful for the teacher who tapped me on the shoulder at Family Video and said, “Are you Isaac’s mom? I met Isaac when he was in special ed preschool. He was the reason I became a teacher.” I had never met her before that day, and I’ve never seen her since. I was deeply moved by her words.
*I’m grateful for the teacher who told her class that everyone has a disability. She said her disability is that she has to work extra hard to become organized. Every student then shared their disability. Noah said, “My disability is that I have autism.” Another kid said, “Wow, that’s why you’re so smart!”
*I’m grateful the preschool teacher only had good things to say about Isaac during an IEP meeting, even though she could have pointed out more of his weaknesses. Nobody had ever done that in such a kind way.
*I’m grateful for the bus driver who spent 20 minutes each morning trying to get Isaac on the bus. She brought toys and music to assist him in the transition.
*I’m grateful for the early childhood special education teacher who said, “Isaac is the most stubborn kid I have ever taught – and I’ve taught for more than 25 years.” She was a great teacher and a good advocate for Isaac’s needs. I was happy to hear her honest remarks. She validated my feelings. He was challenging!
*I’m grateful for the kindergarten teacher who called me the first day of school and said, “I just wanted you to know Noah had a good day.”
*I’m grateful for the speech-language pathologist who created a book for the twins when I was pregnant with Henry. The book told Isaac and Noah what to do with a new baby in the house. (The baby on the cover looked a lot like Henry when he was born. How did she do that?) I was never sure Isaac understood the book, although we read it every day. When the baby was born, Isaac insisted he take the book to school to show his classmates. I cried.
*I’m grateful for the teacher who said she would take Isaac to Special Olympics overnight (for two nights!) if we gave her permission. We trusted her, so we agreed. It was a good experience for him and our family. Weeks later the teacher gave us a photo of Isaac jumping on the hotel bed. He was laughing and holding hands with the teacher who was in midair, too.
*I’m grateful for the band teacher who sat down with me to discuss his personal experience with autism and to reassure me he would do everything he could to help my son succeed in band.
*I’m grateful for the special education teacher who worked tirelessly with Noah on his handwriting.
*I’m grateful for Isaac’s teacher who got a little teary-eyed when she said she didn’t think he would be in her classroom next year.
*I’m grateful for Noah’s paraeducator who helped him develop his independence at school, while giving him just the right amount of autonomy.
*I’m grateful for the preschool teacher who met me every day at my van and took my boys inside the school, one in each hand. They wouldn’t go with me, but they went with her. She made it look easy.
*I’m grateful for the principal who pulled me aside after a vocal concert and said, “I got goose bumps when I listened to your son sing.”
*I’m grateful for the teacher who said, “I don’t like to talk about Isaac in front of him because we all know he is listening and absorbing every word.”
*I’m grateful for the teacher who let Isaac shoot hoops every day at the end of school because he followed directions and listened to the teacher. That reward motivated him.
*I’m grateful for the teacher who emailed me to say she had overheard Noah telling another teacher, “Congratulations and happy birthday! You’re now officially older than dirt!”
*I’m grateful for the teacher who told Noah, “As much as you want to be in my first grade class forever, I can’t bear to think of you as a 70-year-old man sitting in those little desks.”
*I’m grateful for the teacher who told the school custodian that Isaac has autism, which was why he was obsessed with the elevator and wouldn’t respond to her questions.
*I’m grateful for the teacher who videotaped Noah doing a weather report at a time when his dream was to grow up and become a meteorologist. She made a little boy’s dream come true.
*I’m grateful for the paraeducator who emailed me to say, “I always knew Isaac had wonderful parents because of his perfectly packed lunches.”
*I’m grateful for the teachers who have created theatre and music opportunities for kids on the autism spectrum.
*I’m grateful for the teacher who met our family at Noah’s band concert and sat in the bleachers with Isaac to help with his challenging behaviors.
*I’m grateful for the teacher who provided free swimming instruction for kids on the spectrum as part of his research, and he asked my kids (all three!) to participate.
*I’m grateful for the art teacher who said, “Your child is a joy to have in the classroom!” instead of “He has a fine motor delay and can’t draw worth a hoot.”
*I’m grateful for the teacher who offered to take our family picture in her classroom two years in a row when I told her how difficult it was to get a good family picture. We used one of the pictures for a Christmas card.
*I’m grateful for the principal who rode the bus home with Isaac while he was having a meltdown so he would arrive home safely.
*I’m grateful for the custodian who let Isaac help load and start the dishwasher at preschool, just because he knew how much Isaac wanted to help. I’m grateful for the teacher who sent me a picture of Isaac doing just that.
*I’m grateful for the teacher who gave me a “Sounds Like Fun” CD that Isaac enjoyed singing in the classroom. We listened to it so much in the van that once as I drove up to a drive-thru window I sang, “Kitten, kitten, k, k, k . . .” to the woman who took my money.
*I’m grateful for the principal who was patient and calm with Isaac, even when he stole the potato chips she brought for lunch.
*I’m grateful for the early intervention teacher who spent hours in our home every week when my boys were toddlers, helping them learn a work/play system.
*I’m grateful for the teacher on the last day of sixth grade who said to Noah, “I was going to tell you good luck in junior high, but I won’t because you don’t need it. You’re an amazing young man.”
*I’m grateful for the school counselor who went to a historical site during the summer and sent Noah a brochure in the mail because she knew how much he would appreciate it. (She even asked for permission before sending it.)
*I’m grateful for the teacher who never complained that my son couldn’t tie his shoes.
*I’m grateful for the early intervention teacher who came to our home, brought donuts, and listened to me cry.
Thank you, thank you.