Special Needs

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6.

When I worked at an elementary school with students with special needs, one of the students, Kelly, who lived with autism and was legally blind, could take you down a spiral with her never-ending questions about life, your disabilities, or her disabilities. But then, when you think you have satisfied her curiosity, she will ask another question that is even harder to answer. Sometimes I managed to shut the conversation down but walked away feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, thinking I had made a mistake applying for such a task. Untrained for this kind of work, I didn’t have all the answers, nor did I have a Master’s in Behavioral Health. I felt lost and cried almost daily for the students because I couldn’t help them when they had a meltdown or with specific assignments. I also cried because I did not understand why the Lord led me there; I had nothing to offer them.

First and foremost, Kelly was an honor student and not according to a special grading assessment for students who live with special needs; their assignments were the same as the general public. Second, the books and terms were standard, different from what others may think; they did not have unique books. Third, Kelly was in the fifth grade and did fifth-grade work to the best of her ability which was exceptional considering her disabilities. Fourth, the other students could also do the assigned job better than most students in the general public, and their EQ was higher than most adults, so let’s take down labels.

One day, while I was watching the children play in the playground, I wondered if I should resign and work elsewhere. However, my focus was on Kelly as she stood in the middle of the crowd of students playing around her. She stood alone, yet, she was happy; the other students were playing soccer, and she was jumping and cheering them on. Everyone loved Kelly, and they treated her with tender care. Not with pity, just love. That was the moment the Lord answered my many questions. He revealed that I had a gift to offer and reminded me of the love He gave me when I felt disabled amid the turmoil and confusion in my life’s circumstances. He reminded me of the many times He held me when I broke down in tears because I couldn’t understand why certain things were happening to me or around me; I didn’t have answers when others questioned me about circumstances beyond my control. I felt judged by my family and peers; I felt alone and misunderstood.

After recess, Kelly had a meltdown during music class; the music teacher asked us to leave because she was disrupting the course; the music teacher and some other staff had little patience for my kids and did not hide their prejudices. Likewise, I made known quickly that marginalizing my kids was intolerable; I took such treatment personally and ensured the interventionalist and principal were aware of this treatment towards my kids; I was not there to “control my kids behaviors” as some would think or outrightly demand. Instead, I was there to support and protect them from harm or self-harm. Kelly became more upset when the music teacher demanded we leave after failed attempts to calm her anxieties; she loved music, but I couldn’t calm her, nor could she self-regulate while all eyes were fixed on her and the glaring look of the music teacher. Let’s not judge her or the other staff because we have done the same in the grocery store, mall, etc. when a child has a meltdown, and the mother doesn’t seem to control her child.

a boy crying while covering eyes
Photo by Yan Krukau on Pexels.com

Finally, I convinced her to go out into the hallway with me to talk about what was bothering her. When Kelly and I walked, she began asking questions about her disabilities, and I said that I didn’t have all the answers, and most of the time, I struggled with the same questions. Finally, she said she noticed that I was watching her intently while she played in the playground and asked if I felt sorry for her because of her disabilities. I said I was not feeling sorry for her; I was feeling sorry for myself. She was confused for a moment, but I told her that she encouraged me because, regardless of her disability, I admired her ability to remain joyful and peaceful. Finally, I reached out my arms, and she let me hug her, and her anxieties seemed to disappear suddenly. Afterward, we walked into the classroom and could resume the music lessons. I also felt better about the specific disabilities I live with. I have to work a little harder to attain mastery with self-growth because of ignorance or limitations. Like Kelly, who is physically legally blind, there are areas in my life blinded by self-pity, discouragement, or confusion, yet, she managed to do her work and do each task set before her diligently and to the best of her ability.

photograph of a woman hugging her son
Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

The Lord revealed that we all have special needs, such as feeling loved, accepted, understood, and validated. So he brought me there to share His unconditional love and acceptance with the children in my care and those around me at that time. I didn’t have to have a Master’s degree, but to the degree I did master was love and acceptance because that was what the Lord gave me regardless of my failures, mistakes, and choices. Furthermore, Kelly taught me more than I could have ever taught her. Although I don’t work there any longer, I have her lessons tucked in my little backpack as reminders to keep walking in trust steps with the Lord on my day’s journey; He will provide all my needs according to His great riches for His glory, amen.

Disclaimer: the names have been changed for the protection and privacy of all involved.