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Learning Disabilities And Making A New Friend
Carrine is going to be a first grader this year. I met her last year when she started kindergarten. She has a round little face with an engaging smile. Her bright blue eyes are always sparkling. She skips down the hall with abandon, not caring that she should be walking instead. She sings nursery rhymes and parts of pop songs she thinks she knows. She is cute as a button.
She is also mentally challenged. She was born premature to an alcoholic mother. She had several surgeries before she was a year old. She died twice. One of these times she was clinically dead for more than five minutes before they brought her back. Doctors think that this is why she has so many problems learning.
The first time she came into my classroom I was instantly charmed. With her big smile and sing-song voice she yelled "I'm here!" as if she expected the world to stop and take notice. And she was right. Everyone in the classroom stopped what they were doing and smiled at her.
I showed her where to sit and asked her to write her name on a paper. She made a bunch of squiggles and lines and proudly pushed the paper back at me. I smiled as I took it from her, knowing that we had a lot of work to do.
Carrine worked very hard. Over and over she traced the letters of her name. Day by day she counted the teddy bears as she tried to get to ten. She diligently laced the little cardboard shoe in an effort to learn how to tie. She painstakingly picked the best and brightest colors (usually pink and purple!) to fill in the pictures of her favorite cartoon characters. She worked harder than almost any other student I had ever worked with.
As we walked down the hall trying to find the letters and numbers that she knew, she had a smile for everyone she saw. She wanted to shake everyone's hands, and she was so proud to show off what she knew. Of course, everyone loved her.
In the other special education - the one for "the big kids" was a boy named Aaron. Aaron was not a happy child. He was the youngest of five children - and the only one to have a learning disability. He was one of the most dyslexic children I had ever seen. And he saw no reason to learn to read - or do anything else for that matter. He was angry at the whole world.
No one could make him happy. He wanted help from no one. When he was given an assignment, one of two things happened - he either tried for two or three minutes to do the work or he immediately tore the paper into as many pieces as he could. On the very rare occasion that he completed something, you could not praise him for it or it too would be destroyed.
One day Carrine was walking down the hall and Aaron had been sent out to the hall once again. Carrine walked right up to him with her great big smile and said "Hi!" and reached out her hand so that he could shake it. I was worried at first - I did not know how Aaron would react. But I should not have doubted the power of Carrine.
Even Aaron could not resist her smile. He gave her a shy smile and shook her hand. And a friendship began.
After that day, I made sure that our daily walk included a stop to see Aaron. Aaron began looking forward to seeing Carrine. His teacher even used the visit to motivate Aaron to work harder. It worked, too. It worked so well that at Christmas time he had an important question for his teacher. He asked "If I work hard and get all my work done before the end of the day, can I work on something for Carrine?" Of course, his teacher said yes. How could she not?
The day before Christmas break, Aaron's teacher and I decided to have a class party. We had snacks and a video for the kids to watch. Aaron watched the movie for just a few minutes before he asked if he and Carrine could go to the other side of the room.
It was an awesome sight to see the anticipation in the eyes of both students. Aaron reached behind his back and brought out the awkwardly wrapped package and handed it to Carrine. Carrine's eyes were wide as she accepted the package and she unwrapped it very carefully. She giggled as she saw what Aaron had done for her. In the package was a hand drawn alphabet and number book.
Aaron had used his spare time to draw each letter of the alphabet and a picture to go with it, and had done the same with numbers to ten. It was an awesome work of art. And Carrine loved it. For the rest of the day she carefully turned every page, and traced the letters and numbers with her fingers.
For the rest of the year, Carrine used that book. On her visits with Aaron they would go read the book again and again. Aaron definitely took pride in that book. And Carrine thought it was the best gift ever.
I saw that this book - and this friendship - was very special. Aaron worked very hard for the rest of the year. He learned to read at a third grade level and completed more and more of his work each day. He had fewer and fewer tantrums. And Carrine learned her alphabet and how to count to ten.