Bridget has three educational support personnel (ESP). These women are dedicated to making Bridget exceed her potential. All of the ESPs (those assigned to her and those who just work in the building) love and nurture Bridget not to the best of their ability, but beyond it. The men and women at Bridget’s school are always thinking of new programs to adapt, ideas to encourage the students to participate and generally love them like their own child. In Bridget’s case, they probably love her more than their own children since they don’t have to live with her. They are not “staff” to me, but an important teammate in raising Bridget.
My friend, Allie, had a brilliant idea to highlight Autism Angels to celebrate Autism Awareness month. In truth, without Autism Angels our children would not be as successful. Bridget has a lot of angels in her life and the list is inexhaustible. It would include every single person involved at her school, those officially on Bridget’s team and those who just do what you do. If I tried to name all of you, I would insult an important person I left out. They are called Educational Support Personnel (ESP) but we think they are Extra Special and Perfect. These ESPs teach our children how to talk, how to jump, how to hold open a door and how to interact with society. More than that, they also teach them how to read, write and do Every Day math. The Every Day math tutoring deserves the biggest Angel medal in my mind.
Yet they are paid the least in our district. They go home with bruises, scratches and tears. Yet return every day, not because it is a job but rather their calling. Why do they do it? Why do they do this job for so little pay, where they go home at night exhausted and near tears? They could make more money at the local supermarket. They do it because it is not a job to them, rather it is a calling. And those tears are not always tears of sadness. Some days (I hope more than some) those tears are of joy. Joy that their charge mastered 2+2, did not harm themselves or interacted appropriately with a classmate.
Here are the ones “officially” on Bridget’s team:
Jenna, our newest ESP, will play countless games of memory with Bridget even though she must be as tired of the game as I am. Unlike me, Jenna has unending patience in the knowledge that this game is important to more than Bridget learning play skills. It is setting her up to learn numbers, letters and one day maybe math facts. I hate math facts, by the way.
Sydney has been involved in Bridget’s school experience since she began pre-K. Sydney is the ESP most likely to give a bear hug and make Bridget laugh. She no longer is “officially” Bridget’s ESP. Yet every morning she stops to make sure Bridget is in school, give her a hug and start her day off right. Not only is Sydney the busy mom of three, a dance mom, the PTA vice president and volunteer who never stops volunteering she takes that five minutes every morning to make sure Bridget is okay.
Missy is another ESPs who only has one negative quality (she is a Peyton fan). In her role as ESP, Missy is often seen turning her head so she will not crack up at Bridget’s antics. Even with her busy life Missy thinks outside the box for ways to help Bridget. Missy is the first person who helps me decide between autism behavior and six year-old behavior. She is also the first one to tell me to step back and let my daughter explore.
Betsy who with Patty (below) created a small-center learning environment for Bridget and a few friends. A place where one child’s strength bolsters another’s perceived weakness. I’m not quite sure where Betsy gets her enthusiasm and energy. I really wish she would bottle it.
Trisha, there are no words to describe this woman but I will try. Without Trisha Bridget would not be the child she is today. It was Trisha who first gently and kindly told us that Bridget needed a special education program. She is the one who coordinated that first meeting and (I cannot say this enough) with kindness has held my hand every IEP meeting later. Trisha is the one that validates my concerns and provides guidance on how best to bring the best out of Bridget. I may be the Captain of Team Bridget, but Trisha is definitely the co-captain. I am in a panic thinking of next year without her. In fact I am in quite a state of denial that Bridget will not be with Trisha forever.
Patty is team Bridget’s other co-captain. Where Trisha is the head of the preschool squad, without Patty there would be no Special Education squad. Patty is the one to first explain ABA therapy to me and adapt it into a program that fits Bridget’s personality. She is the one who offers to meet me in the parking lot to practice Bridget not running away. Patty adapts every program to insure Bridget’s success and makes sure I am comfortable with the program. She understands that Bridget doesn’t conform to typical ABA/discrete trial teaching and changes the programming to get the best out of Bridget and her ESP. Patty is the only one person in our life (including me) who can out stubborn Bridget. If that is not angel worthy then I’m not sure what is!
Thank you to all of you who are part of Bridget’s team. The ones who battle for her and with her to make her the best she can be. Thank you for loving our family, for loving our daughter, her friends, classmates and well….for being extra special and perfect.
Thanks for being our autism angels.
Also I am feeling wicked guilty for not talking about Janet, Bethany, Lisa, Lynn (x3), Sally, Donna, Emma….UGH the list is endless of who I need to say are angels! But isn’t that an awesome problem to have? Too many people to thank for being angels…I hope you are as lucky as I am and I really hope the ones I did not mention/talk about understand that I think so much of their care for my daughter.
***This post was prompted by reading The Latchkey Mom’s series, Autism Angels. Do you know an angel? Let Allie know so she can feature them! PS there are no photos of Bridget’s angels because I’m afraid the will hurt me 🙂