Monday, January 29, 2007


I adore hanging out with Annie. I suppose I should clarify that statement? Each school morning around 6:45 A.M. I walk out to greet the first SPED school bus arriving at the high school. There are three students on the bus, but only Annie burst from the opening doors with a wide-eyed excitement of a person seeing the place for the first time. Each morning she looks out at the building as if it is the first time seeing the place and "coos", wearing her jacket hood over her headphones. Headphones that are not connected to anything. She decided years ago that these headphones would become a permanent part of her fashion style.

After the other two students have departed the bus Annie will stand and wait holding her hand outward. Waiting for me to take her hand and escort her down the two steps. She smiles and looks around at the school seeing it for the first time and stepping down like a Southern Belle making her debut. Running ahead of me she burst into the cafeteria, stops, looks around and takes a seat at one of the long white tables. These are the same tables that everyday at lunch she eats the white chunks of tofu her mother sends for her lunch. I do not think that Annie likes tofu. She shoves each one of the two inch square chunks into her mouth and swallows after very little chewing. Her mother long ago decided that 5' 10" tall Annie needed to lose some of her 110 pounds and become more healthy. Just last week though it was discovered that after eating tofu for lunch for months, plus the giant pretzels and donuts offered to her by other students and some teachers she had gained 15 pounds. She looks and acts very healthy.

Perhaps, I should mention that Annie is autistic. She explores the world around her from inside her own world. I adhere to the theory that she is locked inside herself and may be struggling to communicate with the stimuli around her. More importantly to me I find her to be a wonderfully, delightful young student. Sometimes she will say hello. Mechanical gadgets attract her like a moth to a flame. She loves turning fans, lights, and such on and off. Laughing loudly, when these items surge into their action, the excitement is very entertaining to her. It is so easy to become bogged down in describing Annie's autism. I do not want to write an educational observation narrative.

One unusually warm January morning I had assisted Annie off the SPED bus and we were sitting at the cafeteria table. She behind me as I sat looking out the glass doors waiting for other students and teachers to arrive. I was enjoying a good monologue with Annie, occasionally turning my head to direct the words toward her. Questions that would not be answered by her.

"Did you have a good weekend Annie?"

No answer from the other side of the table.

"Don't you think it's hot for January?"

No answer from the other side of the table.

"Are you going to have a great day?"

No answer from the other side of the table.

"You're very quiet this morning Annie."

The fire alarm startled me. Jumping up I saw Annie standing next to the wall mounted fire alarm switch. It was pulled down, she was holding her headphones even tighter against her head, and she was looking around trying to find the source of the loud obnoxious noise. I ran to her to console her hopefully out of the fear racking her brain. I stopped the two other students from going outside while I frantically tried to get my key out to open the office and call the fire department. They needed to know it was a false alarm. However, everything was working against me trying to report. The keys were trapped in my jeans pocket, Annie was scared and shaking, the other two students continued to insist it was a fire and wanted outside. To the department's credit the firemen arrived in approximately six minutes. I looked at the four brave firemen burst into the cafeteria ready to save lives and structure!

After trying to explain to the firemen, I was not being very successful. I tried getting the two other students to calm down and stay back some distance. Annie was still shaking badly and looking around. One of the firemen succeeded in shutting the noise off.

"We're going to have to report a false alarm and someone is going to be in trouble," the lead firemen said.

"Well, I understand. Perhaps you need to interview the culprit?"

"Yes sir, we'll need the name of the student that set the alarm off."

I turned Annie around and faced her toward the fireman. "Annie say hello to the fireman."

"Hellooooo," she complied.

"Hi young lady," the fireman said.

"Hellooooo," she said again.

He looked at her and then at me. "Autism," I said.

"Oh. Well, I guess we've done all we can do here. Watch her closer."

"I will."

Annie and the Great Fire Alarm Caper came to an end except for some paperwork I had to complete. Annie was very subdued for quite sometime. She walked a wide birth around all mechanical gadgets for the rest of the day.

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