Let me begin by saying I’m not an expert in the field of autism. To be frank, I find that word to be overused and often a disappointment. From my experience, that term lends itself to someone who knows everything and is not receptive to growth. There is always something to learn, sometimes when we least expect it. We are continually learning, especially as we grow with our neurodivergent loved ones.
With each passing day, there is something new on the horizon, uncovered by a fearless parent, a persistent teacher, or doctor pushing the boundaries into new territory, neurotypical and neurodivergent alike.
What I will claim is that over the years, I’ve learned from some of the best, my son being one of them. My toolbox is filled with valuable experiences as well as failures; both have strengthened my resolve and pushed me to be my best and to never stop learning.
Before I had my children, I was a pharmaceutical sales representative. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would play a valuable role for me down the road. Many of the medications I presented to doctors were for anxiety and depression, so I was given a crash course in brain chemistry, pharmacology and pharmacokinetics. I was always eager to learn as much as I could from my physicians, pharmacists, and the science behind pharmaceuticals.
I left the field when I had my children, so as a stay-at-home mom, I was actively involved in Jonathan’s in-home ABA program. That involvement continued as my children entered school and I turned to volunteering in their classrooms. It was one of Jonathan’s teachers who approached me about becoming an SEA, or Special Education Assistant. Honestly, I felt very at home in the classroom, particularly when working with autistic students and children with other disorders or disabilities. I took a leap of faith and began my new career as an SEA, ironically ending up at the same elementary school all three of my children attended.
After three years in this position, I was approached by my principal prior to the start of my fourth. There was a new position being implemented in the district called a Behavior Education Assistant, or BEA, and she wanted to know if I would be interested. After giving me a synopsis of the job, I remember laughing and saying to her, “So basically instead of being one-on-one with the more challenging students, I would be all over the school responding to calls for all of them?”.
I did end up starting my fourth year as a BEA and stayed with it for seven years until I moved to Florida. It was the most challenging, fulfilling, exhausting and uplifting role―other than motherhood― I’d ever undertaken. I learned so much from so many and my experience broadened.
My move to Florida almost three years ago was supposed to be my retirement. I didn’t make it more than a year and a half before the call to serve became too strong to ignore. Today, I’m back in familiar shoes so to speak, at another elementary school supporting students in a VE (Varying Exceptionalities) unit. Once again, I’m loving and learning each day and adding to my toolbox with new experiences from the experts: the children I support.