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What My Special Needs Students Have Taught Me About My Own Special Needs Daughter

18 Mar 2014 – 02:42 AM EDT

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I am a teacher of exceptional children. Children with autism, anxiety, ADHD, muscular dystrophy and many other special needs that can impede development: intellectually, physically and socially. I adore my job and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My kids” as I call them are the best part of my job. Like any professional, I can get bogged down with paperwork and standardized testing and other things equally as beastly and unimportant for my special needs students. For the most part, though, I can spend my day working with children that need just a little more guidance and a lot more patience.

These children have been raised in a world that judges them against milestones set for their peers. They are constantly measured and assessed in efforts to bring them as close to ‘normal’ as possible. They are often met with quizzical looks from teachers who can’t understand them and specialists looking to ‘cure’ them. Through all of this, there is something all of the professionals are missing. These kids are offering us so much more than we could ever offer them.

For example, little D, who rarely speaks but always find a way to tell me he is coming to see me. He doesn’t make eye contact but he reaches for my hand and holds on tight. This teaches me that communication isn’t always verbal.

Little L, who walks with braces but finds the energy to run to me from across his classroom. This teaches me to always presume competence.

Little S, who always plays alone in the school yard but always makes the effort to show me her new chapter book, even when she should be heading back to class. This teaches me there are many ways to exhibit friendship.

Little N, who has yet to sit with me but often finds a corner of the room and watches the lesson from afar. This teaches me that baby steps are just fine.

Little A, who attacks with hugs and kisses and makes me feel like a rockstar every single time I see him. This teaches me that I am awesome.

All these little people, and so many more, have taught me so much about myself and Kate, my own daughter with autism.

When I look at Kate I’m reminded that each of my students have a family that adores them. I am reminded that they are absolutely perfect in the eyes of their family. I am reminded that I have a duty to treat them with dignity and respect which is exactly how they treat me.

Most importantly, I am reminded that my little girl, who will be in a special needs classroom soon, is out in the world among peers she cannot measure up to and adults that find her puzzling. I silently appeal to all of those who are lucky enough to spend time with Kate to fall in love with her because just like my students she has a family that adores her and believes she is perfect just the way she is.