I’m Thankful For You: My Son’s Middle School Teacher

(Editor’s Note: This article was provided by Sydney and is part of Cooper’s, ‘I’m Thankful For You’ Campaign.)

My name is Sydney Sorkin, and I live in Leawood, Kansas. My 14 year old son, Noah, was diagnosed with autism at age two and with ADHD at age seven. Noah’s autism-related issues were more severe when he was younger, but over time, thanks to a combination of therapies, medication, behavior modeling, and a very supportive village, Noah has progressed a great deal, and I’d like to offer up one of the special members of that village for a shout out today.

My shoutout for #ImThankfulForYou is Kimberly H, special education teacher and case manager from Noah’s middle school.

Noah has always gone to public schools, and when he was in 2nd grade, he transferred to a public school in the same district that had a more center-based program. He was in a resource room all day getting one-on-one support, he did PE and art class with neurotypical peers, but he was not able to spend any time in a regular classroom due to behavioral issues.

When the time came to transition Noah to middle school, I (understandably) assumed that transition would be difficult for Noah: new, bigger building, new teachers/paras, new classmates, changing classrooms. I was nervous as hell, to be honest. When I met Kimberly, I remember being struck by how cheerful, positive, and attentive she was. She paid close attention to everything I said, seemed to take note of every detail no matter the significance. I was extremely impressed. She asked what my goals were for Noah. Since Noah had never been able to be in a regular classroom his entire time in school, I suggested that they work toward a goal of having him be able to be in a regular class for 10 minutes by the end of the semester. It seemed reasonable, lots of nods of heads around the room at the meeting. I said I’d be thrilled with 10 minutes as we’d had nothing previously.

Sixth grade. Whew. The first day of school for me was like it is for all autism parents. We’re wrecked, nervous, tempted to call every 5 minutes and take off work to drive by the school. I was so proud of myself that I made it until the end of the day before talking to Kimberly. I can’t remember for sure if I called her or she called me, but I believe I called her.

I nervously asked about the day and joked that it couldn’t have been that bad because I hadn’t received a call to come pick him up. She then dropped a bombshell.

She just had a feeling that morning, an instinct about my son. She went to the principal that morning and said, “You know, I’m going to try something and see what happens.” She decided to start out my son’s day in the regular classroom. He had a para with him, she figured if Noah couldn’t handle it, they could simply leave the room and go to her resource room.

On paper, it sounded, well, crazy. He had no experience in a regular classroom environment that involved actual sitting and focusing with a group. Heck, my son’s nickname in our family is the Redheaded Tornado, for crying out loud! LOL.

So what ended up happening when she followed her instinct?

My boy ended up staying in the regular classroom for THE ENTIRE DAY that day. He didn’t need breaks, a walk around the hall, NOTHING. 7:50 a.m. until 2:50 p.m., he was in regular classrooms. It took me 20 minutes to get my jaw up off the ground at hearing this news, and a bath towel to wipe up the happy tears that I shed.

What’s even more remarkable? It is now over three years later, and my son has been in the regular classroom 100% of the time ever since.

Mrs. H and Noah developed a great bond over time, they laughed together, took goofy photos together. I’ve included a couple here. One is of Noah when he was playing on the computer. He yelled “Mrs. H, I typed up your favorite word for you.” When she saw that he typed up the word “NO” in a huge font, she burst out laughing, took a photo and emailed it to me. And with me, she became a lifelong, trusted friend. She advocated just as hard for Noah as I do. I never had to be concerned for a single minute when my son was in that building, because I knew that she was there looking out for his interests and well-being, that she was looking out for him as if he were her own son.

Noah is now a freshman in high school, hanging out with both special needs and neurotypical  peers, getting academic and social skills help, and getting out there to experience teenage life. Though reading is still very much a challenge for him in school, he recently got a 100% on the exact same math quiz his neurotypical peers took, with zero accommodations.

There are many moments as an autism parent upon which I look back. One that I often come back to is that transition meeting before 6th grade, where I suggested maybe 10 minutes in a regular classroom at the end of the first semester. Would Noah be where he is now if Kimberly hadn’t had that feeling on the first day of school, that hunch that had her decide to give my son an opportunity to rise to such a huge challenge? I don’t know. But I’ll say this. I can’t put into words how THANKFUL I am that Kimberly came into my son’s life, that she is part of our village. I’ll probably be thanking her every day for the rest of my life. And asking my son what Mrs. H’s favorite word is-haha!

I’m also sending you a few early photos of Noah because they show how much I can relate to the things that you post. Even though I’m in a different place currently, I was very much in the place that you are. It feels like only yesterday, to be honest. Those feelings, the uncertainty, not understanding. Noah was verbal but not in an interactive sense. He’d talk, but he could not respond to prompts or questions. And he didn’t know how to communicate when he was feeling poorly, so I always had to guess if he was ill (so I relate to all of your stories about the ears, oh boy do I). And the behaviors, oh boy. The meltdowns. And even though he responded so well to therapies over the years, is verbal now and can communicate, there are different challenges, new struggles, different heartbreaks (oh, the things he says during meltdowns-“I hate my autism, I want to die”, “If I hit my head hard, will it get the autism out?”). Advocating at school because he’s being bullied, oh man that’s been a fun start to the school year, NOT! Heh.

But as you so eloquently say, we focus on positives, and I know that we have SO many, so I always stick to those as I stay on top of managing the tough stuff. I am grateful, and we are very blessed. And that’s why I sent you that submission about Noah’s teacher. So many people (teachers, after school program people) looked at Noah’s behaviors and just assumed he didn’t belong with other kids, that he couldn’t/shouldn’t be included. But Kimberly knew that he should be, and here we are *smile* She’s a rock star and goddess to me.

 

 


You can still nominate the doctors, therapists, teachers, friends and family that make a difference in your special needs world. Click HERE to learn how!

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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