62: Let Me Tell You About Jake

62: Let Me Tell You About Jake

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Let Me Tell You About Jake

What a teacher writes on the blackboard of life can never be erased.

~Author Unknown

Jake walked into my kindergarten classroom with a Wall Street Journal and a Chicago Tribune sports section tucked into his backpack. His parents led him to his seat. He sat down and pulled out the newspapers and began to read, oblivious to the other children playing with a variety of toys at the table. I’m not sure who was more nervous, Jake or me, his teacher.

Jake was not only able to read and understand the newspaper, but he had a terrific grasp of statistics. Although I don’t remember him participating in physical sports during his school years, he would often come to class after a weekend with the statistics of the players of the teams he supported. As he relayed play-by-play descriptions of a game, I wondered if he would have a future career as a sportscaster.

It was an interesting and challenging year for Jake, my assistant, his family and me. As a teacher, I have always felt that the classroom should be a community that functioned like a family and every member was important.

Jake was not the first child I had in my classroom with Asperger syndrome. There were two things that I felt I could safely assume. First, each child had a very special gift of in-depth knowledge in a subject area well beyond grade level. The second was that the child with Asperger’s that I had the year before was completely different from the present year’s child, who came in with a different knowledge base and a different set of behaviors.

With Jake, I noticed that he would rarely interact or communicate with the other children. Much of the curriculum was set up so that students would move to different tables throughout the day, where they would be taught various subject areas in small groups. Jake found it very difficult to transition from place to place, to stop one activity and begin another. My assistant was integral to guiding him throughout the daily routine.

Even when the class sat in rows on the floor during story and calendar activities, Jake seemed isolated. During free play and on the playground, Jake enjoyed his own company.

Working with Jake required special strategies. Fortunately, communication between his parents and me was constant and we worked as a united team. We tried to encourage behaviors that would be consistent at home and school.

Jake was not always aware of what was happening around him. His safety was always my main concern, especially when he was outside of the classroom. Fortunately, his parents always volunteered to go on field trips, an older sister came to the classroom to take him to the bus at the end of the day, and the playground supervisors were on alert to notice where he was when he was outside.

When I think about that year, I believe the greatest breakthrough came one day when the children came to sit on the carpet. Jake dove into a row between two boys who usually sat together. Everyone was shocked as an eruption of movement and tussling occurred. The boys didn’t want to separate and Jake couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just jump in where he wanted to be. It was, however, a joyous moment for me. Jake wanted to sit between these boys. He wanted to interact, but he didn’t know how to communicate it.

Once Jake moved on to older grade levels I was not able to track his year-to-year progress. I was fortunate though, to have moments in time where our paths would cross.

I remember that when he was in fifth grade, many of the students were part of a parent-run basketball program. Although Jake did not have the coordination skills to play basketball, he had the ability to announce the “play-by-play” of the games. He announced students’ names and followed their movement as well as their scores. Every time a player made a basket, Jake whooped with delight and his face radiated pure joy. Although he tried to stay within a script provided, he improvised a bit and made each game sound like a professional sports event. He also provided a “public service” announcement about the Parent-Teacher Organization’s snack bar and safety tips upon leaving the school. How wonderful it was to see his awareness of what was taking place around him and his emotional response to the activity.

About two years later, I was invited to Jake’s Bar Mitzvah. As I sat in my seat, tears rolled down my face as I listened to Jake share what it meant to him to reach this milestone. He very clearly articulated what it was like to know that he learned and communicated differently from others. It was among the most moving speeches I had ever heard and I learned that he had written it completely on his own.

A few weeks ago, I ran into Jake and his family at a community dinner. He is now seventeen and towers over me in height. It’s always nice to run into former students, but I was particularly happy to see him and to know that he remembered me. His mother told me that they would not be staying for the planned program after dinner because they had to get ready for a special day. She asked Jake to tell me what was going to happen.

Jake said, “Tomorrow I am going to college! I’m going to major in Communications-Sports Broadcasting.”

~Jean Ferratier

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