The first time I met Andy, he wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Talk to him,” his mom told me, “he’s listening.” So I talked, about anything and everything. While I talked, Andy spun in circles and flapped his arms. He never made eye contact, but his circles would occasionally bring him close enough so that he could brush his hand against my arm. At the end of our meeting, as my words dwindled, Andy began to screech and hit his head. His mom smiled. “He likes you,” she told me. We arranged to meet again the next day.
Working with Andy and his family for the next three years changed my life. Diagnosed with Autism at an early age, Andy had been neglected by his birth parents and abused in foster care. When I met him he was eight years old, living with his adoptive family, and just beginning to move past the traumas of his early childhood. Doctors had predicted that Andy would never be able to communicate, and early evaluations had labeled him profoundly retarded. Working with a team of caregivers assembled by his parents, I helped Andy find ways to successfully interact with his community. Time and time again I saw him struggle against the limitations detailed in his initial prognosis. I read to Andy, and watched him emerge into language and begin to write poetry; together we practiced facilitated communication, and I saw him type love notes to his first crush. I witnessed Andy’s parents fight to prove that their child belonged in a “regular” classroom, and I saw first hand how a misdiagnosis, a label, could be overcome with passionate advocacy and tireless effort. I learned how teachers and parents, therapists and respite care providers, could come together to provide a child with the tools and opportunities that he needed to succeed, in the classroom and beyond.
I took the lessons that I learned from Andy and his family with me as I worked with a variety of children in a number of different roles. As a special education assistant teacher, I saw how special-needs children, lacking the advocacy and support Andy received, could slip through the cracks of public education. As a para-educator in a behavior disorder classroom, I learned how simple things, like patience and consistency, were sometimes the only tools I needed to connect with a child. As lead teacher at a private preschool, I worked to prove that a small group of typically functioning children could successfully be educated along side their special-needs peers.
I have worked with children in various ways throughout my life. I have been everything from teacher to nanny, from soccer coach to respite worker. No matter what my title, however, I have always been an educator. A child’s education is a process comprised of innumerable influences and countless opportunities. I want to provide children with the tools they need to take advantage of these opportunities at an early age, and I believe that your M.Ed/Initial Licensure Program in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education can help me achieve that goal. I want to anchor the hands-on experiences I have accumulated over the past ten years in the research based methodology and best practices that I will learn through your program. After completing your program I will be able to provide special-needs children with the opportunities and tools that Andy never had as a young child.