As retirement loomed in the not-so-distant future, I was doubting what I had ended up doing with the past ten years of my life and wondering with trepidation what would come next. The job hadn’t paid well, my savings were nil, and I was worried about my future. Then Jake slipped his hand into mine.
Jake is a very shy, non-verbal, multiply-disabled, five year old boy in the other classroom. He’s very tall for his age, almost reaching my shoulders and has thick, curly black hair pulled back into a pony tail. He covers his big, dark eyes with his hands when he gets off the bus or when a lot of people are around. I don’t see Jake often because I usually have lunch during their recess, but I’ve observed him on and off in the playground always by himself, wandering aimlessly around.
To be honest, I didn’t really choose this job with these children on purpose. Through a friend I was hired in a school as a one-on-one aide to a severely autistic child after I had lost my job, relocated and was having trouble finding employment. There was an instant connection with the child, and I found it rewarding to be able to help her navigate through her daily activities. I remained with her for two years until the family moved out of district. Then I was assigned to the multiple-disability classroom where I remained for another two years. It was a tough job, but I loved it. The last three years I’ve been working in the preschool classroom. The children are not impaired except for a few behavior problems, which is not as gratifying as the special ed students. I became disenchanted. Health problems ensued, along with age, and retirement became imminent.
But that morning, Jake was walking with another aide who stopped to talk. I said hi to Jake and commented on his cool dinosaur t-shirt. He smiled slightly. That afternoon he came up to me and took my hand. He pointed to his dinosaur t-shirt and smiled. I remarked again how much I liked the shirt, and he was pleased. We strolled around the yard – me talking; him listening, sometimes smiling, but happy to just be walking with me. My heart ached, and in that moment I realized that the past ten years were not in vain. I connected with these children in a positive way, and that’s more than enough for me.