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.

Occasionally You Get Fooled

Occasionally you get fooled when experience suggests that what you can expect is for a parent not to show for a meeting. Or you can suspect a confrontational exchange in how the government school and every teacher has failed their innocent, precious child. I wondered which case it would be this morning? Or would it be a new scenario?

Mr. "Smith's" son is a junior in high school. A fine young man that was not always so fine. In prior schools he frequently initiated fights. Joshua is more then vaguely familiar with alternative schools having been sent away several times by beleaguered government schools attempting to control their environment.

This father showed for the behavior meeting ready to defend his son. Generally, defend would imply an adversary which was not the case. He defended his son because of love, caring, and compassion. He freely told of family difficulties such as a mother fighting her own demons, an older brother hopefully completing an incarceration of four years, and his son now in our high school trying to overcome temptations of being a teenage male. Joshua is not much different then any other teenager. He loves his girl, his car, and his saggin' pants. Perhaps not in that order. Joshua's father is more concerned that his son believe he was on the his side. It appeared he and his son have a long history of the boy doubting his father's support.

Mr. "Smith" loves his son. He politely defended him to the principal that had suspended the boy for three days from high school, "I've taught my son not to start a fight, but to defend himself if he is attacked."

The principal is also a self-ordained southern preacher and has slowly came to the belief that he can "save" students from themselves. However, it should be noted that only select students are worthy of being "saved". The principal will deem which are to be blessed. "I understand what you say, but he was involved in a fight. He should have made the decision to walk away after being hit.", the principal said, leaning back in his desk chair.

I watched more then listened to the exchange between the father and the principal/preacher. Mr. "Smith" wanted badly to be a hero in his son's eyes and the preacher absent-mindedly pushed the buttons on his desk phone appearing to be detached from the situation. Mr. "Smith" attempted to explain the relationship he was trying to repair with his 16-year-old-son before it was to late. The principal wanted to get to the homecoming pep rally.

I do not want the principal to appear in a bad light. He has put in over thirty years as a teacher and assistant principal, seeing his share of troubled students and troubled parents. He found a voice for his frustration in his religion, perhaps a voice speaking more to his own mortality then the needs of a student in a government school?

The meeting was a short one, only twenty minutes or so. Mr. "Smith" wanted to continue talking with me as I walked him to his car. He wanted me to know how much he loves his son struggling to find common ground for them to share, e.g., football, working on cars, going to drag races, and etc. All the things a man of the 60's and 70's excelled in and wanted to share with his son. He only had one request of me, "Could you please find a way to let my son know that I stood up for him?"

I reassured him of this and watched him drive off in the 60's muscle car that he was trying to restore with his son's help.