Our sweet Nathan has spent more than two years in the care of Ms. Susie and her paras Ms. Mechelle, Ms. Sandy, and Ms. Julianne, and Ms. Mollie, Nate’s speech pathologist. Over the years, his team grew to include a multitude of therapists: Ms. Laurel, his physical therapist; Ms. Jen, his occupational therapist; Ms. Cathie, his BCBA; Ms. Kathy, the school nurse (who, it seemed like, Nate saw nearly every week after creating a weak table in yoga at the end of gym class); Ms. Andrea, who represents the school district; and another Ms. Jen, the school social worker, who gave a hearty try (alas, to no avail) to get State in-home aid for our boy.
Ms. Susie’s pre-k class is a whirlwind of change. Students don’t begin in Susie’s room in August of each year; they start school when they turn three and age out of the State’s Birth to Three program. This means she has new faces coming into her room throughout the year. Her class size ranged from four to eight, all with the same staffing. Nate alone flusters me; eight kids on the autism spectrum with very few (perhaps two?) who are verbal would overwhelm me to no end. Susie, Mechelle, Sandy, and Julianne managed the change and each student’s (very) particular needs with amazing grace and calm.
In Susie’s room, Nate learned how to be part of a group environment. By the end of the end of his time there, Nate confidently walked to class, unpacked his backpack, and took a seat to start his morning activity. Nate learned how to participate in circle time and wait patiently as a story is being read–something he struggles with at home but has learned to tolerate at school. He learned his colors and his numbers — and showed us that he can learn these things at a blazing fast speed. Nate learned how to spell and write his name, aided, no doubt, by the equally left-handed Ms. Susie.
My monthly meetings with Susie served as a check-in on Nate’s academic and social progress but also helped us through some difficult times, including Operation Occupy Kitchen. Ms. Cathie came up with a spectacularly simple yet effective motivational tool for Nate, a token board (which I’ll write about soon) that helped Nate physically get from point A to B in the school without having a meltdown.
Susie and her team took Nate to the potty more times than any of us can count. It took more than 1.5 years of trying to get Nate potty trained, which included going to the bathroom every half hour (and later, every hour) during the school day. Amazingly, only once did I need to buy flowers for a therapist, Ms. Sandy, who got hit by the fountain of youth on a successful (yet not so successful) trip to the potty.
Though they are educators with a start and end to their workday, these therapists were there for us in and out of school. Susie did check-ins at our home to better be able to help advise on behavioral issues that arose. We emailed each other all the time. And now that Nate’s aged out of their room, we’re all Facebook friends, which I really enjoy.
We saw each other through personal milestones, as well. The therapists cheered me on as we endured Chad’s two year stint in graduate school. Ms. Mechelle had a beautiful baby boy, Henry, who Nate despises because he takes all of Ms. Mechelle’s attention away from him. Ms. Susie got married at the end of Nate’s first year in the room — and, on Thanksgiving Day 2014, she’s due to have a child of her own.
Words can’t express how fortunate our family feels to have these women on Team Nate–and to have them in our lives beyond Nate’s time at their school. On Wednesday, Nate starts kindergarten at a different school than the one where these women teach. They all cried on Nate’s last day of school in June. Ms. Julianne burst into tears as I dropped Nate off and Ms. Susie got teary (and she swears it wasn’t the hormones). We’ll always hold these women in our hearts — and we cannot wait to visit soon to have Nate tell them all about his kindergarten adventures.