Looking Through Their Eyes

I’ve worked with more children with special needs than I can count anymore. I’ve experienced things through my children that may be unimaginable to some, even some in education.

I work near project housing. Many of my children come from homes smaller than my living room. Some live in trailers with dirt floors. Some are homeless. Some travel from school to school as parents try to stay one step ahead of collection agencies while other children bear the greatest responsibility for raising their siblings because mom or dad may have to work two or three jobs just to keep food on the table. Some find their only meals at school.

I knew a child who would disrobe and defecate under desks when he felt scared. I’ve had young children who masturbate as the result of sexual abuse. One of my children would be regularly spotted at a neighborhood park past sundown because that was where she went when her parents argued. It stopped bothering me that she slept in my class. She felt safe there. I know a child who knows how to wrap joints because he’s seen it done at home. I’ve known a six-year old angry enough to destroy classrooms. I just held him. Nothing he can do will ever reciprocate harm for harm from me. I had a child who watched his father gunned down by police during a drug raid. He was never the same after that. Neither was I.

I’ve worked with children who are bullies, who are bullied, who are autistic, who are bipolar, who are schizophrenic, who are brain damaged, who are epileptic, who have Tourette’s, who are gifted and talented, who don’t speak English, who have dreams, who have hopes, who want to survive, who want to die.

They all have stories. They all view reality differently, and I want to know what they see. Their perception of reality is their reality, and their behaviors and actions are all informed by that unique reality they live in. Their sense of justice and morality are formed in that reality. Their sense of community and socialization is formed within that reality. Their sense of self-worth and human dignity is formed within that reality.

I cannot dismiss that reality because, when I do, I dismiss the individual.

If I tell one of my literal autistic children, “Get out of town!” in response to something amazing he did, I cannot blame it on him when he runs away. His response is not invalidated because my perception of meaning differs from his. I cannot tell a child who is being bullied day in and day out that, “It’s okay,” because that statement condones the actions of the aggressors in his or her eyes. I cannot write off issues I do not want to deal with because I perceive reality differently than my children.

Before I can help a child develop past the issues that may hinder healthy development, I have to be willing to stare at the world through his or her eyes. If I blind myself to the sights they offer me, I can in no way help them. If I deny the realities they experience on a daily basis, I fail them. If I cannot love them for who they are, then who will?