Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Happy Star Wars Day

I've elected to stay home from work today and tomorrow, so as not to pass on my lurgy to any other staff/children, and because when I start coughing, I just can't stop, and I'd rather that didn't happen when I'm tearing round a playground trying to keep within eyesight of a hyperactive 10 year old.

I was gutted when I woke up this morning and realised that my decision meant that a) I wouldn't be there on our first day in a new classroom, and b) I'd miss sharing May the Fourth style Star Wars jokes with the boy I work with (E), who has been obsessed with Star Wars for 5 years now. When I started working with him, he and I did not mesh well. We couldn't find any common ground, he resented me replacing his previous favourite therapist, I was too authoritative and found it hard to let go and be silly with him. Every day that I worked, I'd be met with cries of "No! Not you! You're fired!", and I'd have to carry him to our work area in the throws of a full-blown autistic tantrum, kicking, screaming, biting, and pinching me for the first hour or so until he'd given up trying to get rid of me. Our sessions were always peppered with attacks from toy swords and screwdrivers, threats to cut off my head or drill through my hand. He threw a table at me once.

About six months later, he saw The Phantom Menace for the first time. My husband Jamie is your typical born-in-1977, geeky Star Wars fanatic. I've seen all the films a thousand times since we've been together, and gradually grown to love them as much as he does, although I don't think I'll ever be quite as obsessive about the lore as he is. This education, though, meant that at a time when I drove home from work every day in tears, losing all hope of being able to work with and help a child who hated the very sight of me: all of a sudden, we clicked. He started talking about Star Wars. His verbal skills were very limited at the time, but when he found that I could describe scenes for him, and knew character names, and could differentiate ships for him, and had an arsenal of Star Wars toys, books, and merchandise at home which I could bring him to play with, I became, in behavioural therapy terms, a motivator for him. His eyes would latch onto mine whenever we had a conversation, rather than skittering away to stare at the branches of the tree outside the window over my shoulder. He would run to our work table when I called, rather than me having to pick him up and place him in the chair. His verbal skills started improving at an exponential rate, as he found something that he really, really wanted to talk about. He started greeting me with pleasure, and reading on the sofa after work was finished, I had a warm and cuddly boy cwtched up against me, rather than a child who couldn't bear me to touch him.

5 years later, he still loves Star Wars, although Doctor Who, the Beano, all Wii games, anything to do with space and astronauts all feature heavily too. 5 years of spending 30 to 40 hours a week with the same child mean that I miss him like crazy when I'm not working, in a way which you're absolutely supposed to distance yourself from in this kind of work, but which my stupid empathic nature has entirely prevented me from doing. I was on maternity leave last year, and so it's been 2 years since I've been able to be silly, and giggle, and make the same joke a hundred times in a day. And I'm really sorry that I missed today.

May the Fourth be with you, E.


Anonymous said...

I used to volunteer for a befriending project and I was paired with a 5yr old autistic boy and it was just as you describe - he couldn't stand me at first, pushed me away and cried but after quite some time he would come to me for cuddles when he was upset. It was an amazing transformation. I miss him still and it's been 4 years since I moved hundreds of miles away. I have so much admiration for you and what you do for your job - I only spent a few hours a week with this boy and, wonderful though they were, they left me drained.

Heartful said...

Not stupid at all! What amazing work you do Beth.