Another chapter ended

Wendy Wickstrom


Today, Trevor and I finished the last of his High School work.

Yes, he graduated in May, but one thing you learn quickly working with a child that has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is that you MUST keep them busy and in some sort of routine. I have worked every summer with him since 2004...and with him in a classroom for 2 years before that.

This job has been anything but a "job." It has been a pure joy...on so many levels.

I met Trevor in a classroom in October of 2002. He was small and quiet, and remarkably smart. His mom "warned" me about his odd behaviors, so I was not baffled when he chose to do his work UNDER his desk rather that at it; when his only responses were "peeka peeka peeka" when he would get the slightest bit nervous; when he would only speak to me in his very basic vocabulary; when he chose to play in a pile of dirt by himself at recess. The examples could go on, but even from his first week in my "normal" classroom, this was just Trevor. I knew it, the other kids knew it, and life went on.

In our time in my classroom (a little over a year) he started working at his desk, answering questions in group discussions, and making friends with his neuro-typical classmates. Then the school ran into some trouble, and my job was up in the air. His family wasted no time in calling me at home one evening to ask if I would be interested in home schooling Trevor, "since he has made so much progress with you." I will admit, at first, I was hesitant. Could I do right by this child? Could I encourage him and help foster his interests? What about when we hit high school math and science? I knew I couldn't do those.

In my three years at the school where I met him, I had been given 7 different ASD students. The director had discovered that I had the drive, the interest, and possibly the most important, the patience to work with these amazing kids. None of them were the same. All of them learned differently. All of them had very individual "odd behaviors." I truly loved working with these kids, and Trevor had made huge strides...how could I say no?

So, in the early winter of 2003, we began our one-on-one journey. The past seven years have been devoted, Monday through Friday to this amazing kid who has since become an incredible young man who is a good six inches taller than myself. Within the last 6 months, I have even been allowed to touch his head (Trevor's ultimate show of affection, which only five other people are allowed to do). I will never be able to explain the emotions on that Thursday afternoon when he touched my head first, thus giving the unspoken permission for me to touch his.

Once he hit high school, he went to a small private school that was willing to work with us for Math and Science, accepting his grades from home for all of the other classes. He became the manager for the JV basketball team his Freshman and Sophomore years, and was promoted to the same position for the Varsity team his Junior and Senior years. His classmates searched him out to proofread papers for classes he wasn't in. He corrected a teacher's wording on a test in his Science class, to make it "grammatically correct." (I couldn't help but be proud of him for that, I pounded grammar into him and he hated it.) He got to walk with his classmates from that school in May when he graduated. I WAS able to do right by him.

I discover only now, looking back, that not only did I do right by him as a student, but also as a human being, as a friend, and (according to his family) as a family member. In an odd way, he does feel like "my kid." I have spent so much time with him in the last eight years. We have endured the suicide of a child that worked with us at home for a year, the passing of his favorite uncle a few weeks before graduation, and the unexpected drowning death of a friend the weekend after graduation. We have worked through different issues involving his mostly absent father. I have taken trips to different areas of the country to meet specialists and attend conferences. Not all of it has been sad or difficult though. We worked together on some of the requirements for him to earn his Eagle Scout. We have random conversations that you would never expect to hear outside of a college Science or Philosophy department. He makes fun of me by giving me Algebra equations that make me nauseous, and I drive him crazy by using double negatives (which nearly kill me, but I enjoy the fact that I know at one time, he wouldn't have cared, and probably wouldn't have even noticed.)

So, today is bittersweet. We have finished the High School Chapter of his life. Years of prodding him awake even after he had made it downstairs and was sitting with breakfast. Having him teach me, in our first year of school at home, how to make "Octopus Hot Dogs" (if you want to know how, just ask me). Years of shared laughter and tears with him, and his family. Most of that came to an end today when I walked out that door, telling him to have a good weekend.

Now, we start the next chapter. We will still meet eight hours a week. That is less than he wanted, more than I had originally planned, so we compromised. We will only see each other two days a week. We will be working on note taking, reviewing, and studying for the college classes he is enrolled in this fall.

His mom and grandmother have joked with us both, "We are going to have to ween you off of each other over a couple of years."

Yes, they will. Trevor will always be a part of me. He will always be the real reason that I have a passion for working with ASD students. He will always provide a smile...just by remembering. I am so proud of him...just as if he were my own.

Comment to Wendy here


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