(editor’s note: yes, another post about saying goodbye to an integral member of our team and life. I have more to write about on other things…the words just aren’t flowing yet.)
Dear Mrs. T,
I don’t know where to start to say goodbye and thank you for all that you’ve done for our family. I couldn’t even say hello to you last time I saw you without crying…not once but twice.
I guess like all things, I’ll start at the beginning.
You remember how we first met? Howie was turning three. He had been in early intervention for occupational therapy under “clinical judgment” for sensory processing issues but did not yet have his autism diagnosis. You went into the private daycare that he was attending to evaluate him to see if he would qualify for services at our public preschool. Remember how he was on the verge of being kicked out of that daycare? After you went to see him there, we sat around a very small table at the preschool and we discussed Howie’s eligibility for special education services. While he didn’t qualify at the time, the preschool team all agreed to let Howie start at the public preschool that March so you could keep an eye on him.
And keep an eye on him you did. You had me fill out the “Dunn Sensory Profile” and for the first time I was able to see quantitatively his sensory needs and differences. Questions like “does your child hug too tightly” or “does your child spin” were now indicators of sensory processing issues and not random unexplained things that my child did. You taught me words like “proprioceptive” and “vestibular” and explained to me what a sensory diet was in terms that I could understand. You consulted with Howie’s preschool teachers as we tried to figure out what was going on with him. This wasn’t something special that you did just for us. This was just what you do.
Remember when Howie did get his autism diagnosis at age 3 ½? That now we had a place to start with an IEP and goals and ways to help him? You were right there at his first IEP meeting to bring him on for direct services for fine motor work as well as a consult for all things sensory for him in the classroom. You gave me ideas for equipment and exercises that we could do at home to help him regulate. You introduced him – and me – to the How Does Your Engine run program and worked with him on his handwriting, his tune ups, and classroom fidgets. You were always willing to try new things and look at his programming from a sensory perspective, and never once dismissed an idea that we had to help him.
The incredible wealth of knowledge and experience that you bring to the table when working with a student and their family is extraordinary and we benefited from that immediately. You never once looked at the “autism” label and implemented a cookie cutter OT program around that label. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now how seamlessly you worked with the whole preschool team to teach self-regulation, handwriting without tears, and fine motor skills. You were part of my oldest son Gerry’s preschool programming and I didn’t even know it.
With your wealth of knowledge and experience comes this incredible way of predicting the future needs and successes for children. Remember when Howie “graduated” from direct service with you in kindergarten? Remember how I panicked? You called me and reassured me that he was ready and you wouldn’t take him off your caseload if you didn’t believe that to be true.
Sure enough, Howie’s handwriting is better than everyone else in the family. You just knew he could do it. You believed in his abilities when so many others did not.
With the reassurance that he was ready to come of your direct caseload, you promised that you would stay on as a consult for his sensory diet. You created specific sensory and self regulation/advocacy goals for him in his IEP. At this point in time, Howie was having a particularly hard time not only with sensory overload at school, but with learning what tools could help him “feel better”. You called me to say you were creating a sensory tool box for him to have in his classroom and asked for my input into what should be in there. You worked with me, his teachers and his aides to help teach Howie what he needed and how to ask for it. You never let him flounder. You were always there to make sure he got what he needed to make it through the day.
I remember so clearly one IEP meeting when Howie was in first grade. I expressed my sadness and worry over his struggles and his inability to figure out what he needed. “Just wait until he’s 8 or 9 years old,” you said. “You will see tremendous growth not just in understanding and coping with his environment, but also in his ability to ask for what he needs to cope with that environment.” You were absolutely right. At our third grade IEP meeting, most of his self advocacy goals had been met.
You never said “I told you so” at that meeting, but I know you were thinking it with a smile.
And now here we are. Your retirement.
You have been with us from preschool through the start of this year in fourth grade. You have watched my child grow in ways I never could have predicted (but you did). You listened to every single concern I had along the way and addressed them.
Your institutional knowledge of my child has been instrumental in his successes and in helping him get the accommodations and services he needs in the classroom.
Your kind and gentle manner has guided him and me through the darkest of times.
You saw things in him that no one else did. You changed his classroom to fit him and never once asked him to change to fit his environment.
You taught his teachers what his movements and mannerisms and outbursts were trying to tell them. You believed that behavior is communication and you looked at his world through his eyes to see how to help him.
Everything that I now understand about sensory processing issues and autism, I know because I learned it from you.
I am grateful every day for what you taught Howie, his teachers, and our family about our sensory issues.
And I thank you for helping us embrace and not fight his unique way of interpreting his world.
Have a wonderful next chapter as you head off into retirement. You will be missed, but never forgotten.
“No matter where I go
Every time I look back on this road
You’ll always be a part of who I am
Everything I’ve known
Every seed of greatness you have sown
Through good and bad
Your love has watched me grow” – In This Moment by KC Gan and Alison Yap