The past few months I was fortunate to work as a substitute teacher for special education in a local elementary school. I dove in this fall not knowing what to expect, and by Christmas, I can honestly say it had greatly affected the way I view the world around me. Since what affects me affects my art in various ways, I thought I would share with you my experiences of the past few months.
For different reasons, I am not able to continue this job, So as I move into this new phase of life, I will remember the lessons I learned accompanying these incredible little human beings for the past 4 months of school.
1. For the majority of my time, I helped children with severe autism and Down's syndrome who do not fit neatly into our "average" world. A world that does not take the time to recognize and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of these children. Their worlds are much more beautiful in so many ways. We could learn much from watching how they are completely immersed in every moment. How the joy and love they experience are powerful and pure- in their eyes, their smiles, and their hugs.
2. Children are naturally ready and able to connect with those different from them, and do. Even in the most severe cases, where verbal ability is limited, or behavior is a barrier, 5 year old children innately understand how to reach out and be a friend and are not afraid of differences. They try to connect- with great success and against all odds. Children, unlike adults, do not look away or avoid eye contact. They look, and like the little artists they are, they see what is there, and seek to connect with the essence.
3. Slowing down and paying attention to what is needed in that very moment is the key to everything. These "special" kids taught me that lesson. My idea of what should be happening is irrelevant if I'm not paying attention to the emotions of the child, the dynamics of their relationships, or the power of their basic needs. How true this is not just for the special population, but for all of our interactions and understanding of those around us.
4. The teachers that dedicate their lives to special education are incredible human beings. They are patient, dedicated, disciplined, improvisational, and holistic in their approach to the child. They have much on their plate and they do it all with grace.
5. I have a new respect and admiration for parents of children in the special population. Along with the beauty and love is so much worry and heartbreak. This world is not readily accepting of different. These parents are caretakers, advocates, researchers, protectors and everything else other parents are, times one hundred!
I was honored the past few months to witness the magic that happens when a child first understands how to connect to their world or express themselves in a new way. The pure beauty of a unique little soul unfolding in it's own way and own time is miraculous.
There is a thread that runs through loving, parenting, creating, and teaching. It is improvisation and fluidity which engages the souls involved and expands them. It is beauty and life in action. Differences welcomed.