Out of respect, all the names of the people I work with & for have been changed.
“Look at me- hey, hey- looooook at me. Neil, get ahold of yourself man. Are you a big boy or what!?!?” hands clutched to each of Neil’s shoulder, on bended knee, piercing a glare to him that’d normally see through several souls (taught to me by my dad)… nothing. “Hey hey hey, listen”, whispering to him. Bringing the tone down in hopes to grasp a fiber of attention from the carnival going on in his brain. The carnival in his brain no one was invited to, somehow I broke in. Neil turns his wandering eyes towards me. “Neil, listen to me… are you a big boy?”… Neil’s eyes lock in on my own. He whispers back, “Noooooo”.
Unmoved, I go back to room volume, “Neil… Are. You. A. Big. Boy?” I have to ask the question because Neil refers to himself as a “big boy” when he behaves well for the day. After chasing him down 2 hallways and a cafeteria, I want him to recognize that Usain-Bolting from his classroom is not “big boy” behavior.
Neil’s eyes remain locked in on my own, and now, somehow he’s reversed the soul stare. This kid has turned the tables of intimidation and mystery around on the supposed authority. He whispers “Yessssss”… and it’s official. I’ve been absolutely mind warped by a 4 yr. old. Neil, one of our few children with full-blown autism (in regards to the spectrum of special needs), has undoubtedly thrown my brain into a blender, pressed the puree button, and given it back to me.
“Then start acting like one. Can you walk back to the group without me holding your hand?” I ask him in a non-threatening tone, almost in that baby-voice you don’t realize you’re speaking in when your significant other calls. Neil directs his wandering eyes, and attention to pacing towards the group of pre-kindergarteners. I follow steadily behind him with a hair-trigger reflex for any funny stuff the kid might try and pull. It’s not that Neil’s fast, it’s that he’s unpredictable. His first move is the most daunting. When he slides under a table, sprints down a hallway, or moves from the snack area to the toy area… you might just believe the kid is the illegitimate offspring of Nightcrawler (ref: X-Men). His unorthodox timing could stagger even the likes of Ray Lewis, and potentially lead you to wonder if Neil even knows what he’s going to do next. So, I keep a close eye on him while walking back to the group.
It’s the end of the day, and as we were leaving our rec area (slides, plastic jungle gyms, run-around indoor space) to put on our coats and retrieve our backpacks, Neil made a run for it. Now, walking him back all can rest a sigh of relief that he won’t miss his bus. Ginny and Zoe, the head teachers, have their hands full enough with getting coats on the kids. Chasing down Neil could easily set off a chain reaction of pre-schoolers making a jail break for it.
Returning to the group, I help Neil find his backpack followed by a tutorial to getting his boots and coat on. With autism, a kid like Neil can already read, write, and tell you a carrot is a root vegetable… but when it comes to getting his coat on and off, it’s taken upwards of 3 to 10 minutes. He’s getting better at it. Ginny made an edited video of his record time getting ready for class. Boots, coat, hat, gloves, and all, he’s gotten close and almost beaten it a few times.
As Neil gets ready, something doesn’t seem right… seems off. Christina, one of the kids in our group, is laughing hysterically, but I can’t pick up on why just yet… and there it is. Pamela, a paraprofessional, points down the hallway, “Sid!”
His timing is a bit more predictable than Neil, but is made up in the ungodly speed he maintains down the hall. At bank-robbery-getaway-car velocity, Sid has eluded two teachers and a paraprofessional. I begin to jog after him, and quickly realize this kid might make it to the other side of the building if I don’t respect his turnover. Picking up the knees to a light sprint, Sid can hear me tailing him. Still moving forward, he swivels his head back to give me a glance. Again, ousted by a pre-schooler, I slowed a bit, let’em get to the door- the locked door- the dead-end in this process of adult evasion. The chase halts… nowhere close to winded, he turns to me, “I want to see my mommy!” I try to hold back the laughter; whereas finding anything funny, that was unintentionally comical, from Sid has resulted in a severe backlash of blind anger and disdain. “Coo, then let’s go get’er”, I reply. We walk to the bus pick-up and drop-off doors of the building. Sid finds his mother in the waiting area. Happy as can be, he clinches to her like gravity might take him away if he doesn’t.