I'll never forget the first day I met him. It was his first day of kindergarten. To the average six year old, this day sometimes harbors more anxiety and fear, than some of life's most difficult situations for adults. However, to a child on the Autism Spectrum, the angst of a new school, new faces, sounds, sights, rules, schedules, and teachers; this day can be crippling.
     I walked into his classroom, not even aware of what he looked like or where he was positioned in the seating arrangement, but I spotted him immediately. He was curled up in a ball under a table and crying. During these times, I felt like a klutzy magician standing in front of a relentless crowd pulling tricks from my sleeves. In retrospect, he's been one of my most difficult students. Over the next two years, I often wondered where he would end up, surely it wouldn't be a "normal" life.
     He was bright, beautiful, and enjoyed drawing tractors, pumpkins and Frankenstein. However, he was extremely difficult when he had to do something he didn't want to. He pushed, pulled, kicked, screamed, cried, ran away from me-sometimes out of the building, threatened, punched, swore, scratched, fell to the floor and played dead with the weight of a grown man and on a few occasions threw chairs and tipped over desks. Ten years I'd worked with children on the spectrum, ten years of learning how to manage, work around, overcome, pull rabbits out of my hat, and yet with him, I felt like an amateur.
     There were so many days I wanted to quit, move on, and give up...but I couldn't let him down, none of his support staff could. I cared too much about him, at the same time, I didn't like him very much. In fairness, he didn't like me sometimes either. Some days it seemed as though we were like two Long Horned Rams butting heads mercilessly. Me trying to teach him the social skills to thrive and him trying to express what he didn't know how to verbalize. Leaving one big ball of frustration ricocheting off every fiber of his insides until he'd burst. If I was anything for him, it was consistent. I used to tell him, "If you do A, (behavior) you can count on me to do B, (consequence). Of course these varied depending on his behavior, but I always remained true to my word and he pushed every button I had. In the end, that consistency was often the only time he could count on anything real.
     Remarkably, over the next two years, he started to make small changes. His drawings of tractors and pumpkins fell away to primarily Frankenstein. Frankenstein Santa, Frankenstein Nutcracker, Frankenstein Farmer, Frankenstein, Frankenstein, F-R-A-N-K-E-N-S-T-E-I-N! He walked like Frankenstein, he moaned like Frankenstein and on one occasion when he turned his face towards me, he had drawn, with a Sharpie, scars on his forehead like Frankenstein. I asked him why he liked Frankenstein so much, and he whispered to me..."Some days, I just feel like him." His statement hit me hard. I knew what he meant. Frankenstein was misunderstood, he was gentle and kind, but when tested he became a "monster."
     He's in third grade now, and no longer needs a para. I saw him in the hallway, he held up his hand to give me a high-five, and we exchanged smiles. The next day our paths crossed again, he was drawing a picture of Frankenstein for the Fall Party. His classmates were in awe of his artistic abilities and I too marveled at his creation as I stopped to sit with him. I whispered in his ear, "Do you still feel like Frankenstein?" He looked at me, with the biggest grin ever recorded I'm sure, and laughed.
     I walked away so proud of the boy he is, so filled with joy for how far he's come and where he's headed. I couldn't fight the tears from coming. This is it, this is why educators do what they do. To make a difference in the world, to do something for someone else. To mold, create, love, and inspire a child and sometimes even help change the course of their life.