Today's guest is women's fiction author Marshanne Mishoe, whose debut novel - The Mind of a Child - highlights the changes in our society's knowledge of and attitude towards children with special needs. It's an awesome debut novel; I enjoyed it and learned so much from it. So please welcome Marshanne as she talks about how her own experience in a Special Education classroom. ~Heather
When I started my three-year stint as a paraprofessional (assistant teacher) in a Special Education classroom I came to the job with absolutely no experience. I don’t just mean I didn’t have classroom experience, I mean I actually had no life experience with a person with special needs. No relatives, no children, no neighbors no nobody. I just had not encountered a person with special needs in any meaningful way.
This made for a fun, funny learning curve that took me down the alleys of autism, cerebral palsy, undiagnosed disorders and more. But 7 out of the 10 children I regularly worked with had Down Syndrome. This disorder is genetic and irreversible. The kids are generally cheerful, happy fellas (Down Syndrome, as with most learning and mental disorders, inexplicably affects many more boys than girls) so they are easy to love. But they each have their own personalities and bents. The one thing they have in common is a tendency to be stubborn.
So, combine my inexperience and the children’s penchant for mischief and there was bound to be some, shall we say, “episodes.” For instance, we had a child with Downs who also had some autistic tendencies. We will call him “Caleb.” For some reason, no one could figure out why, this kid was afraid of trees and bark and leaves… all things trees. His parent had taken him on a camping trip in hopes of desensitizing him to his irrational fear, but they ended up coming back in the middle of the night after he sobbed the word, “trees” for several hours.
Anyway, on nice days at school, we liked to go through the lunch line and take our boys (and two girls) out to the courtyard for lunch. Caleb, was a big eater, and one of his educational goals was to get him to slow down and eat with manners. You can imagine how much this boy enjoyed his food. But when we ate in the courtyard, we had to bring him outdoors kicking and screaming! He would just have a meltdown if a leaf skittered across the pavement! So, my wonderful lead teacher would instruct me to slowly bring leaves and bark and such over to Caleb and gently let them touch him on the leg or arm.
Needless to say, he screamed and cried and screamed some more. I was at the point of wondering what I was doing there and all of a sudden, he stops his fuss. I wouldn’t say he was cured, and he never loved eating in the courtyard, but he learned that he would not be harmed by the trees there!
During my time in Special Ed, I learned to get over being easily embarrassed. I had children run away from me, sneeze on me, climb up my body in fear and so on. I learned to have no embarrassment or fear when entering the boys bathroom. I also learned to laugh when our guys made me look foolish. Like the times I had to bend down, trying not to touch the bathroom floors but still assisting a child that had managed to get stuck in a stall. When I inevitably fell over on the floor, with boy and all, I would screech in disgust and run to the sink to wash my hands up to the shoulders with soap. I guess I’m a bit of a germaphobe. Not a good mix when working with young children!
I also learned to give credit where credit is due. In other words, if one of my students could say his ABC’s up to the letter M, then that was a big deal for that particular kid. We learned the importance of our students learning to say their phone numbers when one of our kids had a scary episode at home.
He was with his father before school one day getting ready, and it came time for the father to go to work. The mother was busy with two younger children, so our student tagged along, following his beloved daddy out to the garage. The father didn’t know he was there. He managed to back out of the driveway and lower the garage door without seeing that his son was following him! This was a February morning and the boy was still wearing the tee shirt and underwear he’d worn to sleep in the night before. A neighbor finally noticed the barefoot and shivering child a full 20-minutes later! He’d wandered way up the street. The neighbor managed to get the boy into his warm car and notified police. They in turned called the mother, who had yet to notice her oldest son was missing. Our student repeatedly tried to say his phone number, but the authorities had a hard time understanding him. I never got exasperated over teaching the phone number lesson for the 100th time again!
There are so many stories and times I could tell you about and in fact, I have used some of my favorite stories in my new book, The Mind of a Child, currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other favorite online retailers. One of the dual story lines in the book is loosely based on my years as a parapro. The other story line takes us back in time to the 1940’s and shows us how a person with Down Syndrome was treated back then.
Thanks so much for letting me join you guys here at Heather’s site. I appreciate her generosity so much!
About the author:
The Mind of a Child is Marshanne Mishoe’s first novel. She started her writing career back in the mid 1980’s as a television news reporter and anchor. She worked at WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina for the better part of a decade, and before that she had a two-year stint as a writer and producer for SC-ETV’s satellite branch in Beaufort, SC.
Marshanne now makes her home just north of Atlanta. She lives with her husband, Steve, and their three kids, Jake, Spencer and Marishay. Their dog Millie would be highly incensed if she were left out, so she lives there too.
Visit Marshanne online at www.marshannemishoe.com.
Connect with Marshanne online