Today, as we were in the middle of writing workshop, one of my kids came to tell me that D was crying. D is a 5th grader, mildly autistic, who just exited the program offering extra academic support. He's gentle and kind, and rarely emotional. He had his head buried in his arms, and was sobbing. I asked his best friend, J, if he knew what was going on. J suggested D was frustrated with the writing, and felt it was too hard. I put my arm around D's shoulders and hugged him gently, asking if he was frustrated, if something hurt, if there was something going on that was making him sad. He shook his head, but continued to sob. I was concerned ... this was not usual at all.
It was just before the kids had to go down for lunch. I told D I'd walk the kids down and bring his lunch back upstairs to him. He nodded, continuing to cry. J helped me pick out good choices for his D's lunch. I returned to the classroom, and D was no longer crying. I put his lunch down, and asked him if he could tell me why he'd been so upset. Before I tell you the rest of the story, remember that D is autistic - albeit mildly. However, autistic kids tend to communicate differently - often unemotionally, and often lacking ability to express feelings as other children might.
D looked at me, and in the sweetest, most honest manner possible, said, "I really don't know, Ms. Stern. I was writing down the story ideas, and I just got a memory of something. It made me so sad and I started crying, but I don't even know what it was. I just felt it."
I had to swallow hard. I told him I had experienced the very same thing many, many times. I told him that his reaction simply demonstrated what a caring, feeling, loving boy he was, and that it was so okay. He was a little surprised I'd had a similar experience. We talked a little more. I told him he could always share his thoughts with me. To that, he responded, "I know I can tell you anything, Ms. Stern." From a child with autism, this was huge. I shared with my dear friend and colleague, Jamie, what had transpired. She reminded me that this is what teaching is all about. How right she is. The warmth I feel right now will stay with me through all the frustrating moments I'll face this year.
D and I finished our conversation with an orange. He told me he'd never eaten an orange, as he'd never thought he'd like it. I suggested he try a wedge, showed him how to eat it, and he decided it was delicious. I must say, that school orange was one of the juiciest, sweetest oranges I've ever had. Or, maybe it was the company and the experience that made that orange one incredible, tasty bite.