BASS: Reflecting on sensational support during a life in school
About 14 years ago, a well-meaning pediatrician back in our Ontario hometown told my husband and I not to expect much for our youngest child.
He was about two at the time and had experienced a noticeable slowdown in his development.
The doctor told us if we worked hard, we might be able to get him to talk, but that he would always need a lot of help to get through life.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday and our six-foot-tall, 16-year-old theatre-arts major spent his first day in Grade 12.
I was a bit weepy that day.
Then again, I was in full-fledged weepiness at his brother’s graduation last June. It has something to do with babies becoming young adults and mom feeling both overwhelmed with pride but also in conflict with the reality the babies aren’t anymore.
Sean came home somewhat blasé about school — first days are old hat by the time it’s your last first day, I guess — but he was delighted to tell me he had met a new school support worker at Beattie School of the Arts.
“She was my teacher in kindergarten,” he said.
How perfect is that?
The woman who spent every day at Stuart Wood helping our son, still struggling with the realities of autism, to get through that year, to learn and to make friends, is there to see his transition out of school into whatever comes next.
We’ve been lucky throughout Sean’s education.
We have always had the most amazing support workers.
Carman-Anne Schultz was our first gift, the woman who will now watch as that little boy finishes Grade 12. She quickly calmed all this mom’s worries about how kindergarten would go.
She was fun, creative and infinitely patient and gave Sean the perfect start to his education.
Then came Claire Byfield, again the absolutely perfect person as half-day school gave way to Grade 1 and the need for more structure and attention.
Claire moved to another school and we got Sue Mauro and, oh my goodness, what growth Sean experienced with her assistance. Even now, years later, it amazes me how much growth he went through with Sue.
Sean moved to Beattie elementary and we were assigned Frank Plastina. His challenge was easing the transition from a traditional elementary-school environment to the uniqueness of the fine-arts system.
Again, he was the right support worker at the right time and the two years on McGill Road went so great.
Off to Beattie secondary, where we were greeted by Arlene Fauteux, the woman who has been helping and, now, more watching and counselling Sean since.
It’s as much a credit to her as it is to our son that these last grades have seen the greatest growth in so many ways for Sean.
None of this is to ignore the role the teachers have had; we have had the most amazing educators also working with Sean.
But, the reality is that, all too often, school support workers are often overlooked — and definitely underpaid.
The simple fact is we sent our little guy, overloaded with the challenges and realities of autism, into a system that is filled with similar kids — and we trusted it to work magic.
And, there were problems.
Not every educator we’ve dealt with has really understood autism or readily got on board with how we wanted Sean’s education to proceed.
It’s easier sometimes to just accept the limitations and not always see the potential.
But, the five support workers we’ve been blessed to have on Sean’s journey got it. They simply understood and then they went with the game plan.
In a few months, my husband and I will again be at Calvary Community Church and I’ll again be trying to stifle tears as the last of the five kids graduates.
We plan on inviting those support workers, along with the other therapists who have worked with Sean.
His success has also been theirs and it’s just right to share it with them — just as it’s so right that Carman-Anne is there at the end.