Appreciating Heath

4 Feb

Heath is leaving his school today.  His teacher has made cupcakes, his classmates have written letters and drawn him pictures.  The adults are crying, the kids are tanked on sugar, and my wife says it’s about the sweetest thing she’s ever seen.

I would never have predicted this.  Heath’s time at P.S. 122 has been bumpy, to say the least.  Last year was rough, and this year was worse.  He hated school, refused to go, and threw tantrums when he finally did.  He disrupted class several times a day, running from the room, screaming in the hallways, and at various times kicked or hit every teacher or principal who tried to calm him down.  He was not a happy kid.

On particularly rough days we would sometimes walk around the corner to his old pre-school and visit Miss Fischetto, whom he adored.  Once, while he was inside getting a drink of water, I told her what was going on.  She reminded me that it had taken Heath a few days to settle in with her as well.

“You know,” she said, “you have to…” .  And then she stopped, looking for the right word.  “You have to learn to appreciate Heath.” 

She was absolutely right, and I was moved by her insight, but how do you make that happen?

At a loss, we had Heath evaluated.  He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  And with that diagnosis, a small series of miracles began to occur.

The long suffering staff at Heath’s school seemed to redouble the patience and kindness they had shown our son, working with us on strategies to help him through his day.  

The school psychologist, Mrs. Reyes,  immediately made us aware of NEST, a new program administered by NYU and the New York City schools that was having great success with kids like Heath.  She let us know that it was a long shot, but they had an opening, and she wanted to submit Heath.  We agreed, embarking on what I expected to be several trying weeks of observations, interviews, meetings, and paperwork.  In reality, they were a balm, as person after person brought knowledge, kindness and laughter to the care of our son.

In the end, he was accepted. 

His two new teachers came to our house this week to meet him.  His new classmates have written him letters telling him how much they’re looking forward to seeing him.  It’s the way the world should be.

When things were at their worst, Heath’s principal told me that she was trying not to suspend him, but at some point her hands would be tied.  When I said, “Maybe that’s what he needs”, she said, “No… we don’t want to do that.  He’s just a little boy.”

So today Heath says good-bye to a school, and to an amazing group of people, who, under very trying circumstances,  never forgot that he is just a little boy.  And who never stopped appreciating him.

And for that we will always appreciate them.



4 Responses to “Appreciating Heath”

  1. Marie Daman (friend of Shelli) February 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    This is beautifully written. We, too, went through some very tough years with our daughter. She was aggressive and defiant with teachers and students and was asked to leave her first preschool, gym class, dance class, guitar lesson, singing lesson and seldom could play with other children. Her last preschool worked so hard do deal with her issues but it wasn’t until she was tested that we knew she had severe separation anxiety, ADHD and a learning disability. Having the diagnosis was the best thing because we had a beginning point for treatment. She is doing much better now in her second year of kindergarten. I’m so glad the process of change has started with Heath!

  2. jens February 8, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Your posts always give me warm fuzzies and make me smile!

    • dtoddbell February 8, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      I swear to god, I try to avoid the warm fuzzies, but they always show up in the end. Good to hear from you.

  3. Mary Anne McNeil February 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Those are the people who should be teachers and educators. It restores some of my faith in the educational system in our country. I wish I could say the same for the teachers at our Jr.High. I think that one of my children would especially benefit from this kind of love and understanding. I’m glad it happened for you guys!

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