I just love bringing great personal stories to all of you. Today’s tale comes from educator, Suzy Dees. Suzy wears many hats; she is a mother of a child on the spectrum, RtI coach, and teacher educator. Suzy recently taught a class using “You’re Going to Love This Kid”: Teaching Students with Autism in Inclusive Classrooms as the primary text. She created discussion questions and class activities, and gathered many related materials for her students. Because Suzy is so generous, she has offered to share the materials on her Wiki with this audience.
Ok, so if that wasn’t enough, Suzy also has shared a wonderful story with me. It seems that on the last night of the class, one of the students, a fantastic teacher named Julie Dawson, had an unforgettable encounter with a young man with autism. Here is the email that Julie sent to Suzy immediately after the event:
I want to share an unbelievable event that happened to me just minutes after class on Thursday. I left class so empowered. The panel was incredible. There was so much to process! I drove to the Jewel on Oakland to pick up a few items. As I was walking to my car, I noticed a van parked on the short road coming from Mercer. A man was out of the van yelling to a person who was face down half in the street and half in the grass. The person, a very large boy in his teens, was in the grass was having a tantrum, screaming in a very high pitched voice. I couldn’t tell what he was screaming. The man threatened to call DCFS, said he wasn’t going to see his grandma and grandpa ever again, said he was going to call the police, and so on.
I just knew that the person in the grass was having a meltdown. Something about his voice made me think he was autistic. I know you are probably thinking, “Yeah right”, but I was still on the high from the class and I just had this gut feeling. I can’t explain it.
Instead of pulling out of the parking lot and going on home, I drove up behind the parked van, put on my flashers and got out of my car. I asked the man that was yelling at the boy if I could help. He said, “No, he’s autistic.” I said I thought I could calm him down. I asked the man what the boy liked and he said, “Comic books”. The man was a relative in town for a few days and had taken the boy to Monster Pawn to let him buy some comic books. They only had $12 and the boy picked out 11 comic books. Everything was all right until the boy saw an ALF comic book and wanted it. It was $5 and they didn’t have enough money and the boy went into meltdown mode and the man made him leave. I really don’t know how they got to the road by Jewel…didn’t ask.
I sat down in the grass and asked the boy which comics he liked the best. He screamed, “ALF!” I asked him what other comic book he liked and he told me several. He sat up and we continued to talk about them. I literally could see the calmness move down his body! I asked if he could go home and draw some pictures of the comics that he liked. He said he couldn’t draw. I told him I couldn’t draw either, but writing “Alf” over and over in different colors would be fun and cool. He thought he could do that.
I got him to stand up and told him to get back into the car. He said he wanted to get in my car. I said I couldn’t give him a ride so I opened his van door and he got in. The man got in and drove off.
Several people had come out of Jewel because they wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do. One lady came up and thanked me for helping the boy & the man. This whole scene was so surreal! I was on this empowered high from [the last class] then this happens minutes later!
I just had to tell someone about this. My husband was at a Cardinal game, but my daughter called and I told her. She was excited and could hear my energy, but I needed to talk to a classmate or Suzy. If I hadn’t taken the class, if I hadn’t read the book, if I hadn’t listened to [the guest speaker] say that to offset a meltdown was to talk about whatever the person was fixated on I wouldn’t have been able to help in this situation.
So that is my story…I will never forget this experience.
I want to thank both Suzy and Julie for letting me share this story and these materials. This story reminds us about the power of being calm in crisis, learning to listen, and meeting challenges with understanding. It is also, however, a great example of “paying it forward”. Suzy taught a great class and inspired Julie. Julie, in turn, became a life saver for a young man and his family. And for all we know, the chain continues today!