This summer, I embarked on a new journey in the world of adulting: securing an internship. Being that I am on the route to becoming an elementary school teacher, this seemed like an unlikely way to spend my summer, as many internships seem to be business-related or research-based in the sciences. I typically nanny or teach summer dance camps, as I was not sure what opportunities there would be in the internship world for an aspiring educator. However, I knew I wanted something more than my previous summer job. So, I did some research and I stumbled upon an internship working at a year-round school for preschoolers with autism. Though daunted by the task, I applied, interviewed, and was hired. The only experience I had had in the past was babysitting a boy who is autistic, so I felt mildly prepared but completely helpless all at the same time.
A little over halfway in, I have come to have a love/hate relationship with the internship. Some days are tough- really tough, especially when you are trying to juggle 6, low functioning 4-year-olds in the 90-degree heat. The building is old and needs work. I take the elevator up 3 floors every day and pray it will make it from the basement to the third floor. There are bugs and occasionally broken AC units. There are meltdowns and temper tantrums that give me headaches for the rest of the day. There are bruises from aggressive children, bite marks (from the same aggressive children), and fear that one day, when that one kid picks up a toy and throws it across the room at my head, that I will actually be hit.
It can be frustrating, especially when trying to connect with and communicate with a child in the special needs population who is nonverbal. I want to be sure that I have impacted them, and they, me, but sometimes it feels like a futile effort. Expended energy that I won't get back.
But, there is so much love. The faculty in that building know each and every kid. They know how to handle every situation, whether it be with pressure and a tight hug, a walk down the hallway, a trip to the break room, or a simple "hey, that was really good". They know when to praise and when to scold. They know how to work on getting that kid to talk and ask questions and express their needs. They know how to love a child who may not be loved by everyone else. And now I do too.
I am confident now that when a child runs out of the classroom, I can be depended on to get up and get him. I am confident in the way I handle a pair of children who are beginning to fight or get upset because one kid wants to play and the other does not. I am confident that I can help bring a child down from a meltdown because now I can tell what they need. I am confident that I am teaching them all of the right skills in interacting with others, whether it be not to grab something out of someone's hand or to sit quietly while someone else is talking.
And now, I see and experience the love that I was only a witness to. One student, in particular, I have bonded with. He has learned how to say my name, cheers when he sees me in the morning, and runs to me to give me hugs in the middle of the day. He asks me for help or to aid him in fixing a problem or a situation that is angering him. He grabs my hand every morning, places one racecar in my hand, and leads me over to the racetrack so we can play together. For a boy who at first barely spoke, touched, or played with others, this has been especially meaningful for me. I hope it is just as meaningful for him.
Though I have been challenged, exhausted, bruised, and pushed, I have felt and given so much love and I look forward to creating more connections this summer.