I’ve been asked many times whether we turn anyone away. Is there anyone that we feel uncomfortable working with? Generally, I answer the same way: “We won’t know that until we’re confronted with a specific situation. I believe in the ability of our tutors to handle challenging cases, but we’ll have to make sure that both tutor and student are benefiting from participation.”
While we have previously dealt with some challenging behaviors, this year we were presented with a new challenge. One of our new students is a second grader diagnosed with Autism. During our first session with the students – before I knew of her diagnosis – we struggled. In a classroom full of people, this young girl was unable to focus, often telling me that other kids were laughing at her (which was not true, as far as I could tell). Overstimulated and entirely defiant, I spent most of the session just trying to get to know this little girl.
During the next session, one of our second-year tutors, Dana, chose to work with this young girl. Moving out into the hallway for some privacy and quiet, Dana began working on spelling words, making the lesson interactive and fun. With both a smile and an appropriate firmness, Dana ensured that her student stayed on task throughout the lesson. At the conclusion of this second session, I explained to Dana that her student brought some specific challenges that might provide difficult during the course of the year. Dana’s response, “That’s okay, I can handle it.”
We will continue to work with Dana throughout the year to ensure that she addresses both her student’s behavioral challenges and her academic needs. Through this experience, Dana is learning firsthand that a Special Education diagnosis does not mean that a student lacks intelligence. We will keep high expectations, and I know Dana will learn valuable lessons about students with disabilities – in addition, I’m sure, to learning about patience.
At the end of the most recent session I attended, Dana’s young student approached me at the end of the session. She handed me a piece of paper, saying, “look what I made.” In bubble letters, it said “[Her Name] + Dana = BFF.” As she stood there beaming, I could tell that we found an answer to the question about whether we can handle students with significant special needs.
The best part: I didn’t have to answer that question. Dana did it for me.
Thanks, as always, for reading.