“I’m Olivia and I’m five,” the young girl announces to everyone she meets. I’m her kindergarten teacher, and just in case I’ve forgotten, she introduces herself to me that way almost every day.
I haven’t forgotten Olivia, and I never will. I’ve learned to look at the world through her eyes, and in doing so I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that some people really don’t believe that their hands are clean until they are completely dry. I didn’t know that big open areas like gyms could be as frightening for some kids as small dark spaces are for the rest of us. Olivia has taught me that routines and rituals that seem boring and repetitive to many students can be comforting to others. I’ve discovered that I shouldn’t assume every child will be able to transfer behavioral expectations into new settings, but I’ve also learned that going over those expectations helps all children act politely. I’ve found that slower is sometimes faster in the end. I’ve learned, and my students have learned along with me, that fair is not always equal.
Together Olivia and I have learned that if the magic eye of the self-flushing toilet is covered, it won’t roar at us. We’ve learned that if we race together to line up after recess, we can both get there on time. We’ve learned that if we set a timer in the lunchroom, Olivia can beat the clock and be ready to go outside with the rest of the class.
Kindergarten teachers often hold hands with students to ensure positive behavior, and in many cases to be sure we’ve not left any of our perpetual stragglers, like Olivia, behind. At the beginning of the year, Olivia made it clear that I was not to hold her hand. I’m still not allowed to hold her hand, but now she holds mine.
Ellen Javernick is a kindergarten teacher who lives in Loveland, Colorado. She’s also the author of numerous magazine stories, articles, and books. One of her books, the very popular What If Everybody Did That?, is often used to help children internalize appropriate behavior.
This article was featured in Issue 68 – ASD Strategies in Action