Silver linings in special education

So I had a shift at work this week that was hard. I work with kids on the autism spectrum, and I’m used to getting hit, bit, and kicked (on a related note, I’ve also gotten pretty good at dodging hits, bites, and kicks). Working with this kid that day was hard – he mixed up what he used for physical aggression, yelled for most of the episode about how much he hated me, and made me bleed for the first time.

By the time I got out to my car at the end of the three hours I was upset. I had tried so hard not to let it get to me, but I couldn’t help it. I spent some time that day talking to my consultant for that case to get some ideas of how to deal with it, as well as decompressing with some people that care about me.

Yesterday I thought a lot about why I chose to work in this environment. On the surface, it was just a readily available job in my field. But I thought about how excited I was during training (when I wasn’t completely overwhelmed), and I realized that a lot of that was from the prospect of helping these kids become more independent and self-sustainable.

In general, I love helping people learn and do things that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise, and people with special needs certainly need that kind of help. So I developed a mantra that I’ve been repeating to myself: help them become independent.

This has helped me in a couple of ways. For one, it reminds me that the over-arching point of me doing this work is to help people be able to live their own lives. So that means that if I know a kid can tie his shoes, but she’s grumpy today and wants me to do one, I can’t just give in and do part of it. That’s not teaching independence. And as a kid, getting help tying shoes isn’t a big deal. But if I don’t teach her, who will? What happens when she flies into a tantrum at having to put shoes on at 14? 25? 40?

Remembering that the goal is independence also helps me cope when I feel overwhelmed or hurt. I remind myself that if the price I pay to help someone reach their potential is some bruises, scratches, and hurt feelings, that’s a price I’m happy to pay.

This isn’t about feeling threatened or afraid, the problem here is just being drained emotionally and physically. Remembering what the point of all of this is helps me to push through when it’s hard.

And you know what? When I worked with the same kid today, there were still some behaviors. But, surprisingly, there were also a bunch of things that really impressed me (as in, when I see my consultant for that case next, the first words out of my mouth will likely be “you’re not going to believe this!”).

I may need to write that mantra somewhere I can see it often; I have a suspicion it will come in handy over the course of this job.


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