62: Special Treatment

62: Special Treatment

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

Special Treatment

We are all special cases.

~Albert Camus

Kayla sat in the back of my classroom. She usually had a rather dazed look about her, as though she’d just narrowly missed being hit by a bus. When I tried to engage her, she was always polite and respectful. She never broke any rules. However, I had a hard time determining her academic potential. She wasn’t failing, but I had a sense that she was capable of more than the “C’s” and “B’s” she earned.

“How was your weekend?” I asked her one Monday morning.

Her rote response, “Fine,” greeted my ears uncertainly.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. She seemed more dazed than usual.

Kayla shook her head and then nodded. “My brother was home for the weekend.”

There was nothing in my file about her family situation. I mentioned her to a colleague who had taught her the previous year.

“Poor kid,” she said. “Has two siblings with autism. One of them had to be institutionalized. Guess he comes home sometimes.”

That explained a great deal about Kayla’s behavior. She tiptoed past students, always on alert that one might do something unexpected.

“The kid was so shell shocked that at one point the parents thought she might have some sort of disability as well.”

“I wish someone had told me this at the beginning of the year.”

“Sorry,” my colleague replied. “I went through the same thing last year. Should have given you a heads up.”

Returning to my classroom with a new understanding, as well as a plan to look up more about autism, I saw Kayla at the lunch tables with a woman who looked vaguely familiar. She wasn’t on staff at the school. Perhaps I’d met her at back-to-school night.

“How was lunch?” I asked her. “Was that your mother?” Most middle school children would have died of embarrassment at the thought of a parent showing up to have lunch with them.

Kayla smiled. “Yeah. She has lunch with me sometimes, when she can get away.”

“What a nice treat,” I responded.

“It is nice, and calm and quiet. The only time Mom and I can talk.”

Suddenly I understood. “Must be hard at home with your brothers.”

“Well, my parents work really hard and they try to find ways to give me attention, too. But I understand.”

At that moment, Kayla seemed to me so mature for her age. She didn’t care what any students thought about having lunch with her mother at school. She stole moments wherever she could find them.

I would never completely understand what life was like for her at home. Some days were better than others; I could always tell by looking in Kayla’s eyes.

In fact, she shuffled in the day of an important test looking like she could use a good night’s sleep.

“Kayla?” I began, but she interrupted, nearly in tears.

“I couldn’t… I didn’t… the test….”

“Bad night?” I asked without need for elaboration.

Kayla simply nodded.

I wrote a note on the health slip. “Here. Why don’t you go lie down in the nurse’s office until next period. You can take the test tomorrow.”

The girl looked confused, grateful, and hesitant all at once. “I… I don’t want any special treatment.”

“Kayla, we are all special. And everyone needs a little special treatment from time to time.”

~D. B. Zane

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