How a teacher changed my son’s life: “You do have friends, and here’s proof”

“All it takes is one teacher to change a child’s life.”

I’ve always loved this quote. I think most of us can think of a special teacher who brightened our world and made us believe in ourselves. Those teachers are the just the best and right now, my four-and-a-half-year-old boy has one at preschool.

You see, the last few weeks my son has gone from being a little guy who really struggled at kindy and didn’t think he had friends, to one who can’t wait to go and play with his little buddies.

This is all thanks to his teacher.

Two years of struggle

My sweet boy has autism. He’s on the mild end of the spectrum but is very high functioning. He also attends a lovely inclusive, understanding and supportive kindy. Despite this, he has struggled. There’s just so much sensory information for him to process there, as well as social stuff for him to navigate. He gets stressed. He gets tired. He feels confused.  

Until now Leon has played by himself in the playground. Hopping over rocks and looking for bugs. I always assumed this was his way of having time out while the other children made noise and played together, but now I know it was also because he was feeling alone.

“I hate kindy. It doesn’t feel good there. I don’t have friends.” Leon used to cry and shout at me as I struggled to get him dressed for kindy. But then one day, everything changed.

The power of pictures

Leon’s teachers are always thinking of ways to make his experience at kindy better. He even has a quiet tent there so he can retreat when the noise of the room gets too much. So one day his thoughtful and insightful teacher came up with an activity in an attempt to make the social aspect of kindy a little easier for him to understand. 

By sitting him down with two other little boys in his class, Eli and Ronan, she asked him to draw himself with them, explaining that Eli and Ronan are his friends.

Leon's friends picture

Leon really learns best through pictures, so I don’t know why I didn’t think of this activity myself. Whenever I need him to understand anything, like the time I went to hospital or that he needs to brush his teeth before we go out, I draw him a picture. It’s as if his brain just clicks when he sees the visual.

So of course he needed to see a picture to understand that he has friends at kindy! Of course. 

Preschoolers painting

Now the sun is out

Leon now proudly tells me, “My friends are Eli and Ronan. Can they come to my party?”

There are no more kindy morning tantrums or getting ready battles. In fact, when he wakes up on these days he tells me that it’s a good day, “because I get to play with my friends at kindy.”

He is full of smiles when I pick him up in the afternoon and his teachers tell me he’s a different boy there now. 

Not only does he believe he has friends, because he does, but he’s really learning how to play and interact with them. I’ve discovered the three boys like to pretend they are motorbikes zooming all over the playground, riding a bus together and playing hide and seek.  

What’s more, Leon came home yesterday and added another little boy, Harry, to his tribe of kindy friends. Now I am full of hope for when he goes to school next year. Sure he will struggle with lots of things, but now I know he can make friends, and so does he. 

Sometimes all it takes is one teacher. 

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