I am sitting in the dark and crying.
Please don’t get the wrong idea – these are tears of joy.
I’m at the back of the gym at my nephew’s school. The kids are rehearsing their end-of-the-year play. I’ve worked as his aide at this particular school for the better part of a decade.
The kids are acting out small vignettes and large musical numbers that they’ve written themselves. They’ve been working on it since January.
As they sing and dance, a wave of memories of them all as Kindergarteners floods through me. Suddenly Leo is six years old again. Big blue eyes and bowl-cut hair. He is crouched on the floor with me watching the action from more than an arm’s length. He is stimming to cope. I am cheerleading and pointing with way too much enthusiasm.
In the old days, I was literally up there on stage with him.
Slowly, I moved down to the floor in front.
As he got older he wore headphones and played drums. It was a great way to participate without having to deal with other people’s anxious agendas and the blast of sensory information barreling at him from all sides.
I remember the exact moment of the first real onstage breakthrough; the third grade concert when his joy overrode everything else and he allowed himself to get swept up in the music. The class parents erupted in applause as they witnessed him shine so authentically. He broke down in tears; overwhelmed with the emotionality of it all.
But the arduousness of that is over now.
Now he struts.
He has comedic timing.
He oozes confidence and, without any bias at all, I can honestly say, he has a spectacular singing voice.
He is thriving and I can’t believe it is literally The End Of An Era.
He will be on his own next year, without an aide, at a school that specializes in teaching kids with different learning profiles.
He already has a movie date lined up. Both he and his new friend (they met at the orientation) know exactly how long the movie is in length and the day it comes out in theatres.
This from a child who sat at a table for 40 hours a week doing every kind of therapy his parents could get their hands on.
This bird has definitely flown the nest and he’s changed my life forever by giving me the priceless gift of his perspective.
The fire within him is burning bright.
It’s impossible to say what the future will bring, but one thing is for sure –
He will have a say in it.
I am proud to denounce my title as Therapist and be Just Auntie forever after.
That’s more than good enough for me.
Sara Winter is a (former!) classroom aide to kids with autism and the founder of Squag.com