“The valley of the shadow of death”

Henry and I had a good morning. I welcomed him at the classroom door just as I do every morning. He grabbed his snack and met me in our private cubicle. As soon as he gobbled down his fruit snacks we got right to work. Henry killed it. He was on point today, worked consistently with me and then the teacher. He was focused and relaxed. After his classwork, Henry did what we have been trying to get him to do from day one. He calmly got up, grabbed the velcro tag that says “Playground” and brought it to me, signaling that the playground is where he wanted to go. “Okay Henry, ask and you shall receive!” Henry earned it, so off we went to enjoy our early morning walk on the big playground.

Somehow, maybe my guard was down, maybe I was too confident, Henry got away from me. He made a mad dash down the long hallway, with me picking up a quick pace behind him. The faster Henry ran, the faster I did.

Damnit! He cut through the library. The moment I entered the library, already out of breath from running down the hallway, a class of about twenty students and two teachers looked at me. “He went outside!”

I picked up my pace, even faster. I ran, making my way through students, trying to make sure I did not let Henry get too good of a lead on me. I barrel through the library double doors that lead outside, to the back of the school. The library assistant has him insight. Henry is climbing the twenty plus set of stairs that lead from the lower building to the upper parking lot. As soon as she sees me she backs off. While running past her, still trying to get to Henry, who is so incredibly fast, I yell “Call backup!”

I am now up the stairs to the upper parking lot, and Henry is still running. Fuck. The street, he is running towards the street.

The faster I run, the faster he runs. Every now and then he will look back at me. I do everything I can. I am running while calling him. I am digging through my pockets for all of his “motivators.”

“Henry, look! I have gummy worms. I have putty! Henry, stop!”

He picked up his pace. I was losing. I was losing bad and Henry’s safety was in my hands. I thought about all the new stories I have been reading. Too many. “Missing Autistic Boy.”

This cannot be happening on my watch. Again, I picked up my pace, but I was feeling it. I grabbed my cell phone while running. Clumsily dialing the teacher. It went to voicemail. Of course, it did. He was teaching.

I sent a text to the group chat me, my fellow paras and teacher belong to.

“HENRY IS IN STREET I NEED HELP!”

Within seconds the teacher calls.

“Where are you?”

I am running and feeling it. My legs are about to give out. Between breaths, I utter something about 61st Street at the bottom of the hill.

“On my way!”

Henry is still running. And let me just say if you think that there is something wrong with me that I cannot catch up to a third grader then I will politely tell you to “fuck off.” Run a mile in my shoes and then let’s see how quick you can catch up to a non-verbal who has incredible sensory skills.

There is no way I can catch him. I know this. The only thing I can do is keep him in my sight until the teacher comes, preferably with his car.

I am losing him.

Henry rounds a corner. It took everything in me to run even faster. I am at my limit. I cannot do this. Please. I need help. God, please let him be okay. Out of nowhere, I see a lady walking her dog on one side of the street. On the other side is a man, walking. Henry is running right towards them. It’s now or never. I reach deep inside me, pick up my pace while yelling to the strangers “BLOCK HIM!”

Immediately, the two strangers on two different sides of the street circle in on Henry. Henry, being Henry, turns around and runs towards me. Somehow, I was able to grab him. I did a “Right Response” hold on him that I just spent two Saturdays training for.

In a bear hug type of move, I moved him to the curb and sat him down, while placing my own knees on his thighs.

I did not even get a chance to thank the strangers. I looked for them, but they were gone.

I bent down to eye level with Henry who just got a kick out of me being out of breath.

I could not say anything.

It took me about three minutes to regroup. I picked him up using another “Right Response” technique that I was taught. Ever so slowly we made our way back up the hill, to the stoplight at the corner of the school.

There in the opposite direction, we see the teacher. The teacher is running towards us. Henry and I stand there and wait. As soon as the teacher is close enough where Henry knows he messed up, the teacher calls Henry.

The teacher takes Henry. “Jennifer, go to break. Take as much time as you need. You did everything right, this happens, go to break.”

I cry. An uncontrollable cry.

The teacher is walking Henry back to safety.

“Jennifer, you did nothing wrong.”

I cannot stop crying. I go to my car and realize I do not even have my car keys on me.

My mind is full of everything that could have gone wrong. My chest hurts. My legs hurt. I punch my car. I punch it out of frustration, out of fear, out of hurt.

Tears streaming down my face I debate on calling Christin. I can’t. I can’t even talk. I sit down on the curb in front of my car with a hurt hand and hurt spirit and continue to cry.

I am not sure how long I was out there. It was time to compose myself. I take my scarf and wipe away the tears while heading back into the school.

As soon as I close the restroom door behind me, my office manager comes in.

“Are you okay?”

I cry…again.

“No, I am not okay. I had a runner, and…”

She looks at me. “Can I give you a hug.”

I cry more.

“I know. Your teacher ran by here. This is not the first time, this will not be the last. You did everything right and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.”

I splashed cold water on my face and made my way back to the classroom.

With Henry settled in, the teacher pulls me aside.

“You did everything right. This, this is the world of autism. We are always learning, always figuring out new ways. Just know, even though it may not feel like it now, you did everything right.”

No. It does not feel like I did everything right.

But, one day it will.

~Jennifer

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2 thoughts on ““The valley of the shadow of death”

  1. Great blog. You did everything you could even though you felt defeated. These are the stories that make me not want to work as a paraprofessional because I obviously can’t do that. It’s a new day though. Just think you get a few days off soon! Great song choice by the way 😉

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