Ronnie was diagnosed with autism when she was born, and the tag attached to her shoe labelled her as “non-verbal.” She was noted by the rest of her teachers as one of the most difficult to handle in the school because of her constant screaming and self-injurious behaviour.
I was assigned to mentor Ronnie for the very first day of my summer service placement.
“Nice to meet you, Ronnie. I’m Ms Alex, your new teacher this—” the rest of my sentence was interrupted as Ronnie let out a blood-curdling shriek. Instantly, my whole body reacted to Ronnie’s scream; I froze, rooted to the floor. My mind was racing; what had I gotten myself into?
My first day was far from a walk in the park. I was serving at a private school in Illinois for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Our room held seven students and five teachers, which allowed me to get to know each of my students on a deeply personal level.
During my first day at the academy, I monitored Ronnie’s screaming and the banging of her elbows on her desk while I guided her in completing her daily vocational jobs and other activities.
Although Ronnie’s screaming remained constant through the day, both Ronnie’s anxiety and my anxiety did not. She began to smile and laugh, occasionally reaching for my hand. I began to see past Ronnie’s screams, past her anxiety, and her inability to speak. I saw a little girl who was desperate to be valued for who she was. She was determined to be loved and not to be judged.
Every day, my relationship with Ronnie grew stronger.
A week later, Ronnie and I went for a walk together around the school. She began to have a screaming fit and refused to walk. I put my arm around her and told her that I supported her, that I would wait as long as she needed to feel okay, and then we would continue on our walk.
With these words, Ronnie slowly began to relax, and she intertwined her fingers with mine. She smiled and said—clear as day—“Thank you. I love you.”
I heard God speak to me in those five simple words. I could see that God is always with us, seeking our love; that God is found when we open ourselves and listen. Every day, I saw God in Ronnie’s smile and sparkling eyes and the way she constantly reached for my hand, craving love.
Written by Alex Joyce