“Her name is Misha*.”
I looked at the child in front of me, her smile so big that her eyes are squinting, her hair in pigtails. She seemed so friendly and carefree that I can’t help but smile widely at her in return.
“Teacher, she’s somewhat special.”
And that was how I met Misha for the first time.
It turned out that Misha had mild autism. She talked gibberish, didn’t show adequate motor skills a child of her age is supposed to have [she was already seven years old] like holding a pencil and threw fits whenever my attention wasn’t focused on her. She would suddenly heave on her desk and cry out loudly, fat tears rolling down her face at random times in a day, mostly when I was in the middle of explaining a lesson or telling my class of thirteen boisterous five and six-year-olds [including her] a story.
She may be my oldest pupil, but she acted like an ill-tempered, tantrum-throwing two-year-old. By the middle of the school year’s first month, I felt so frustrated and burnt out that I was ready to give up on her.
However, there was something in me that wasn’t ready to back out just yet.
“Give it up already. She’s not responding positively to the lessons. She’s upsetting the other kids. The whole class isn’t progressing because of her. She just doesn’t listen!” I argued with myself. Still, my arguments ceased when my inner voice persisted: “But she’s special.”
Friday – it was our Art Day. I decided to approach Misha differently, be more positive and show more patience. I greeted her with a compliment about her quirky hairband, and she answered with a beaming smile. I spent a considerable amount of time sitting with her on her table, helping her with our artwork for the week and praising her whenever she did things like cutting and gluing on her own.
That day turned out to be the game changer.
Misha’s tantrums in the classroom lessened. She behaved in class, only acting out occasionally. Her skills also improved considerably. In our third month, she was able to hold her pencil on her own. She tried so hard tracing whatever alphabet we were on without my assistance. I’d award her with a smile, a few kind words and a star stamp print on her wrist. At the end of every class, she’d rush out and proudly show the stars she earned with her mom.
Teaching Misha meant more work for me. Exams intended I have to do a different set of test papers for her. I discovered that while she wasn’t good in writing, her recognizing skills were exceptional so, I focused on that. I opted to do her tests orally and in a one-on-one setting. With her, I had to have extra everything – patience, optimism, time and smiles. But the improvements I saw in her made having those extras worth it.
And the Teacher Learned
At the end of the school year, her family thanked me for being patient with their special girl. They also commended me, saying that Misha learned a lot under my tutelage. Oh, but I learned a lot from her, too. Patience and optimism aside, she taught me that every child is unique and has potential; you just need to find the key to unlock them.
* real name of the child changed.