It was a one-two (three) punch. In a matter of weeks, I had three students leave my school. All of these students were in a special program for kids with significant behaviors, often accompanied by an autism spectrum diagnosis. My job is not for the faint of heart, but I have always loved a challenge. One of these students I have had since she was in Kindergarten and K. fit that description to a T. Tall with a flat affect and a deep voice belying a little girl, she could make me break a sweat usually within ten minutes of starting therapy. Her favorite game when she was little was to spontaneously pop up out of her chair and dive across the floor to the safety of a spot under the middle of the table, just out of arms reach. She would giggle furiously while I crawled on my belly (again), to retrieve her and try to get her focused on the goals in front of us. Anyone looking in the window of my door would wonder who was the one in charge!
She would often cycle through behaviors such as falling on the floor, smelling people’s arms and repeating everything you said, just to get a reaction, for weeks at a time. It was a hard lesson for me to learn to ignore the behavior and keep working, but we taught each other well over the years. We were on the same page when it came to working for chocolate and I used it as my secret weapon on tough days (one for her, one for me). We had settled into a rhythm of working together, with just a few bumps in the road from time to time, gaining sentence structure, reading new words and answering questions from stories. I had grown to love her (as had her teachers) and knew each day would bring something interesting! Life was never dull with K.
One morning last week as I was walking in from bus duty, K’s teacher pulled me into a conference room and started the conversation by saying, “I wanted you to hear this from me first.” She told me that K would be moving out of state in 2 days. My mouth dropped open and my eyes filled with tears at the thought of her leaving. My friend Cassandra, her teacher, and I cried together. There is a bond with some of the children that pass through our lives and we both knew that there was no guarantee we would hear how K was doing, if she liked school, or if she was happy. I understood that wherever she landed, her teachers and therapists would learn how to work with her, how to reinforce and when to ignore. But would they love her like we did? I could only pray that they would give her a chance to show them all the amazing things she can do and the joyful heart of who she is. I have a picture of us on her last day, my arms wrapped around her shoulders and a smile on both of our faces. I whispered that I would miss her and I loved her and I walked out the door. I am pretty sure she took a little piece of my heart with her that day.