Tag Archive | teachers

She was once told he wouldn’t – Graduation & Gratitude – autism

– She never doubted he would make it –

An autism mom’s heartfelt thank you to the teachers who helped shape her son’s future.

  This past week my Facebook timeline has been filled with photos of proud parents posing with their children, diploma in hand. 2015 graduates in their caps and gowns, surrounded by friends and family celebrating their success . . . myself included, my youngest graduated this year as well. Watching your child walk across the stage to receive their high school diploma is something parents dream about. We look forward to it, anticipating the day they cross that proverbial threshold into what will be the beginning of their future as adults.

For some of us, it’s a milestone we weren’t always certain we’d see. We hoped for it, we dreamed of it, we fought like hell for it. Our children had to overcome obstacles most of their peers weren’t faced with as they navigated their way through the busy hallways of high school. Our children were different, our children . . . have special needs.

Some of us were at one time or another, told our child likely wouldn’t do certain things, keeping pace with and graduating with their peers is often one of those things we are told not to get out hearts set on, so when it happens, the emotions that accompany the occasion are raw and real and overwhelming.

We worked hard and our children worked hard and we didn’t do it alone. Along with doctors and speech therapists and occupational therapists and many more, teachers become an intrinsic part of our lives, we know without their support and willingness to learn and grow alongside our children as they help guide them and teach them, the winding path we travel would be much harder to follow.

The following letter is from one of those grateful parents who was blessed to have those special teachers in her son’s life, teachers that helped her help her son to become a successful student, a son she was able to watch receive his high school diploma despite the odds some said were against him.

Her words are heartfelt and filled with grace and gratitude and it’s my honor to share them . . .

An open letter to the Burrillville School District…


To the whole of the Burrillville school department,

I’ve struggled for many years thinking about what I would say if this day ever came, struggled because how do you explain to a group of people how their actions – whether they realize it or not – have positively impacted your family’s life in such a way that was never thought to be possible? The alternative path my son’s life could have taken had he not had the support of his teachers, aids, student supports, and even the custodial and kitchen staff, would have been greatly different from the future my son now has. Had My son been placed in a contained classroom he likely wouldn’t be the young man we have now.

If you were one of the few doctors and or therapists who once told me my son would never function; that I was in denial and he was profoundly autistic – I’d know EXACTLY what I’d say to you. That statement is one I’ve had clearly planned out for years for obvious reasons – they were clearly wrong, and my son graduating shows just how wrong.

But you, (several teachers and staff names omitted) and the staff at A.T. Levy, W.L.Callahan, BMS, and BHS? You all had a hand in changing my son’s life, and that leaves me both beyond grateful and speechless.

Despite autism, my son was given a shot other kids before him rarely, if ever, were given. It required going against everything we knew about autistic kids and pushing my son to the limit. It was often even demanded of him that he learn how to function alongside his neurotypical peers. This was no easy task. My son didn’t even allow anyone to touch him until he was two. I’ll never forget that day because it was the first time my child hugged me, and it was a hug his father and I had fought for. He didn’t speak until he was almost 4. No independent or unprompted speech until 6-7-8. He was defiant and belligerent. He was not an easy kid. He was “the bad kid” in those early years. No one wanted their kids to play with him because everyday their children would talk about how my son had gotten in trouble, or did this, or did that. There were no invites to birthday parties or Halloween events. It was a truly lonely time. His behavior was so bad that I basically attended second grade with him. The principal at W.l. Callahan and I? We go way back.

There were days I left that school and just cried in the parking lot, sitting in my car. No matter what I did I didn’t feel like I was really helping my son. There were no guidelines for mainstreaming an autistic child and we were all out of our element. I once cried to XXXX-XXXXXXXX (second grade teacher) about how I was afraid he’d end up in jail or worse – because I was failing him. I was really afraid for that kid. No one, including myself, really “got him” at the time. How would he succeed if we (the adults in his life) didn’t know how to help him?

Everyone likes to give me the credit for my son getting to where he is, but the God’s honest truth is that I could have never done it without the help from his teachers, principals, and other staff over the years. You’ve allowed me to parent not only during a time when it had become politically incorrect to parent – but to do so without fear of saying the wrong thing to my own son. I didn’t have to tip-toe around my own child. If I felt he knew better? No one questioned that. If I felt he had to be held to a certain standard? You all backed me. That alone made a huge difference because it taught my son that the adults in his life were a united front. A “village” if you will. A wall – unmovable.

I didn’t want my son’s disability to be an excuse. You all backed me. I’m sure there were times when you didn’t necessarily agree with my stance, but you still backed me. Those simple actions taught my son that the adults in his life were not budging. It taught him the hard lesson that actions have consequences and that the adults in his life were going to hold him to a higher standard. No one was going to save my son from the consequences of his actions, and it was the fact that his family, and his educational staff both had certain expectations – that taught my son a sense of responsibility. There was no “out” for him. We stood together like the Great Wall – we stood strong and united.

Though there have been teachers who’ve retired after 180 days with my son, those teachers, though utterly exhausted most times, were still good to my boy. I’ve had a few tell me right to my face that he was the toughest kid they had ever had in all of their years of teaching – but each one of them also genuinely enjoyed my son, even if he exhausted them.

These final years – High school. “It’s been a long, strange ride.”

Wow! What a challenge! I sit here at my dining room table looking at something I never thought I’d see. I keep touching the silky blue and white tassel and I can’t help but cry as I think of the little boy with the big brown eyes who was never supposed to graduate with his “normal” peers. And here he is, he’s graduating at a young, 18 years old with his “neurotypical” peers. He’s made it! At least this far. That in itself is really something. 20 yrs ago, my son walking down that stage with his peers would have been unthinkable. He likely wouldn’t have even been allowed to attend a typical school back then. That’s really the reality autism parents once faced. It was the forced nightmare, to know your child had locked potential that no one was willing to try to unlock. You all, from custodians to teachers, aids, kitchen staff, office staff, ect., you collectively changed the life of not only my son, but our whole family.

So as I sit here thinking, wishing beyond anything to find the words to express to you all what you’ve done for my son, all I can think to say is “thank you.”

Thank you to each and every single one of you who saw more than autism when you looked at my son. Thank you.

Thank you for your patience, faith, dedication, and fierce determination. If at the end of today, you feel as though you haven’t made a difference in the world – you’re wrong. You’ve changed my son’s world and I know you’ll continue to change others’ futures as well.


With my deepest love and appreciation,

An Autism Mom.

Teach the children well.

Teach the children well.
“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” John F. Kennedy

There is among us a group of individuals who hold the future in their hands. They mold the present into what will one day become our past. Few are willing to take on such an awesome task, such a mighty responsibility. We call those few teachers.

Teachers become a part of every student they reach out to. They leave an imprint that remains with them their whole life through. There are many teachers whose lessons still resonate within me and I still go back to those memories every now and then and gain strength from them.

I remember the names of some, can recall the faces of few, but the ones I remember most are often faceless and nameless in my mind’s eye, for they have become something more than a faded memory to me. Those teachers did more than simply teach.

They grasped for the potential they saw within me. They gently pushed me toward success and I knew without a doubt they were pleased when I achieved it, I knew they still had faith in me when I did not. They incorporated values, pride in oneself and good work ethics into everything they tried to teach. They gave boost to low self-esteem, a pat on the back and a smile for every effort made.

Unfortunately, I remember all too well teachers that approached each day with the unspoken expectation that their students would fail. Too many of their students did fail; they failed to learn from a teacher who failed to teach. I do suppose in some small way I learned something from those teachers. I learned lack of enthusiasm and empathy would only lead to an end I did not desire.

“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.” Kahlil Gibran

I remember teachers who thought sarcasm and ridicule would teach. I remember teachers who lectured and yelled. I remember teachers who told students they would never amount to anything. I wonder if they ever did.

“Do not train children to learn by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the particular bent of the genius of each.” Plato

I have fond memories of teachers who taught with kindness and understanding. I remember teachers who said good job and nice try. I remember teachers who turned a failing grade into the opportunity to learn. I remember teachers who told their students they could do anything if they tried. I imagine many of their students were able to reach out and touch the stars.

“The job of a teacher is to teach students to see the vitality in themselves.” Joseph Campbell

Teachers are one of our greatest resources. They do not always receive the gratitude, the accolades and the credit they deserve.

Children are another of our greatest resources. They do not always receive the praise, the attention and the credit they deserve.

Teachers are human. They have bad days and buttons that can be pushed. Some days, they may not want to be where they must be.

Children are human. They too have bad days and buttons that can be pushed. Some days, they may not want to be where they must be.

So many of us were inspired to become who we are because of the role one good teacher played in our life. I became a writer because a teacher believed in me. She showed me a path I’d not known existed. Though neither of us knew where it would lead, she pointed out the possibilities, she help me envision what might lay in wait for me. I am still on that path and in some small way she is right alongside me.

A teacher must be on a continual quest for knowledge else they cannot guide and teach and inspire. A teacher must learn to adapt in a changing world. They cannot teach today’s children effectively if their methods are cemented in ways of the past. They must maintain the core elements of their curriculum, yet have the ability to incorporate them in different ways for different children.

“You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails.” Anonymous

A teacher must remember each student is an individual. Not every student is equal. They all learn differently. They all act and react differently. Some have disabilities, some are gifted and some are right there in the middle. Some require a strict approach, some require a sensitive one. Some need a bit of both. Not every student is equal.

“There is nothing more unequal that they equal treatment of unequal people. ” Attributed to Thomas Jefferson

A teacher must recognize the uniqueness of each student, seek out their strengths, their talents and passions as well as their weaknesses.

“Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children of the same age to wear the same size clothing.” Madeline Hunter

If a teacher truly wants the respect of their students they must first model it by giving it.

“The secret of education is respecting the pupil.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Respect is learned and then earned.

“Great teachers empathize with kids, respect them, and believe that each one has something special that can be built upon.” Ann Lieberman

Teachers have a direct connection to who their students are and who they will become.

“Treat people as though they are what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.” Goethe

My goal, my dream, was to be a teacher. I never made it to the front of a classroom, but nevertheless, I became a teacher. I taught my children the faith and the values and the morals they need to have and then I built on the knowledge their teachers imparted to them. I tended to the seeds they’d sown, but just a seedling cannot grow without sun and water and care, a student cannot learn without praise, encouragement and time. Next to a parent, a teacher can be the most influential and guiding force in the life of a child.

“I put the relation of a fine teacher to a student just below the relation of a mother to a son.” Thomas Wolfe

Every action a teacher takes, every word they utter and every mood they have, whether it be for a moment or a day, will affect and impact the lives of the children they teach. A child should never leave a classroom feeling a failure. A child should never leave a classroom with guilt or fear or shame.

“Education . . . is a painful, continual and difficult work to be done in kindness, by watching, by warning . . . by praise, but above all example.” C.B Neblette

A student should walk away knowing even if they failed, they have the opportunity to succeed the next time. They need to walk away knowing their teacher believes in them. They need to walk away and want to come back.

“Nine tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

For every seemingly troubled child, there is an underlying reason for their every action, whether it be emotional, mental or physical, there is a reason. Children are born with the innate desire to learn and please. The child labeled problematic was born with the same desire; something or someone along the way robbed them of it. A good teacher can help find what was lost. Some children may seem unreachable, even unteachable, but those are the ones who often have the greatest potential to learn.

“A child miseducated is a child lost.” John F. Kennedy

Sometimes a teacher will see the fruits of their labor as they watch the growth and change their influence has made. Sometimes though, they may not. There is a certain Chinese bamboo tree that once planted, seemingly does not grow. Initial growth takes place deep below the surface for many years. Before the first signs of life can be seen the tree has grown a strong root system that will sustain it as it begins to grow above ground. Within a year it sprouts from the earth and grows to be one of the strongest and tallest of the bamboo trees. There is no way to know which student will be like that bamboo tree. Just because you can’t see growth, doesn’t mean it is not taking place.

As parents, we entrust the most precious and valuable things in our lives to teachers. We trust they will provide the care and nurture required in our absence. We must do our part to teach them to respect and honor their teachers as someone of great importance in their lives. I valued my children’s teachers, they were role models partnered with me in shaping my children’s futures. I only asked they value my child and all the children in their charge. While teachers mold the future for their students, they are molding their own as well.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Adams

Crystal R.Cook