Portraits of Autism #4

The building where Max has his special education classes is an old embassy residence. We come in and go up one floor where the waiting room - the old kitchen - and the office are. The classrooms are divided between that floor and the one above. Until this week I hadn't know what the ground floor was used for. I didn't even know that it belonged to the school. The door was always shut.

Today, as we walked in, it was open. I recognised a woman who works as an assistant, a young man who I think is a new teacher, and an older man who is probably a father. There was someone else I couldn't see but could hear growling, a low, desperate growl, repeated at regular intervals. An adult voice.

Later when I was in the waiting room upstairs, they came up, and I recognised the boy. He's in his late teens, tall and well built. I've seen him with his mother, a pretty woman with designer jeans and expensive handbags. We used to nip outside together when I was still a smoker. She's funny and kind. Also very hard working. When she and her son are in the waiting room together she rehearses his time-lines with him.

Today you are going to have a class with N.
After the class I will give you a snack and a soda.
Then we will take a taxi together.
We will go home.
At home you will have your dinner.
After dinner you can play with the computer.

Painfully he repeats, missing out some words, struggling to understand the sequence. He wants his crisps now. So his mum says again: First you will have a class with N. Then I will give you a snack.
The boy repeats again. He gets it right and he and his mother are pleased.

Just like his mother, he is lovely and kind. And just like every single Turkish person I've met, he loves little kids. So when he sees Max he beams at him and says 'Hi'. One day Max gave him a hug and he was delighted. He laughed a big, slow, belly laugh. Max laughed with him. His mum and I smiled.

But like all of us, he has bad days, bad times, and unlike most of us, he can't express himself verbally when that happens. So he reacts like a little kid. He screams, he moans, he flaps  his arms. When I saw him start like this, I must admit I was scared. This looked so much like the beginning of an autistic meltdown. This looked so much like the kind of thing Max would do just a year ago. Would he throw himself on the floor and bang his head? Would he fling his mother away and hurt her? Would he attack the furniture? This kind of behaviour was worrying enough coming from a small child, but from a full grown, healthy man?

He did none of those things. His teacher N. came in. She took him by the shoulders and talked to him. She said he had to go to class now. She reminded him that after class he would have a snack. They left together, rehearsing what they would do.
I could still hear the occasional groan but it stopped very quickly.

N. is tiny, and slight. She fits into size incredibly small skinny jeans. She had to reach up to hold his shoulders. She did not, for one second, look scared, or uncertain. She's amazing. She's also Max's teacher.Those boys are in good hands.


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Varda said...


Lovely, inspiring post. Thank you.

p.s. My verification "word" was: "umphousn" which really sounds like it should be the word for .... something cool.

Jean said...

It fills me with hope when I hear about teachers like this.
Max is a lucky kid XXX

@jencull (jen) said...

She sounds lovely, I love hearing about the good teachers out there. Sometimes it is all too easy to focus on the bad but there is also a lot of good. Great that Max has her too:) Jen

Sandrine said...

Thanks for the comments! Yes, Max's teacher is great - and so are all the others working in that centre. I never cease to be amazed by their patience, cheerfulness and imagination, but mostly, by what they achieve.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting and thoughtful post in the series.

M2M x

Sandrine said...

Thank you! So pleased you're still following these!

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