When first presented with the opportunity to share about my time as Madison’s Communication Partner, I was so excited. Then when I started writing I quickly realized there is so much I could tell. I started over many times because I kept getting off track. Due to COVID-19, I resigned from my position at the school, and I currently bring my children to her home. We have our own little class. It is a unique situation, but Madison is not just a student to me. She is a huge part of my life. My children have bonded with her and claim her as a bonus sister. But I digress. The time Madison and I spent together at school built the foundation that we have now, and I would love to share some of that experience, as well as some tips.
I first met Madison, who I now lovingly call M, at school a little over a year ago. She was sick that first week. But the Rett University training was all set up, so she toughed it out a couple of days. Then she was home the rest of the week to get well. I remember hearing a lot of things. I remember feeling very overwhelmed. Looking back, I cannot even imagine what she was feeling. I think it is important to note that I do not have a background in education. To be honest, up until I began subbing a few weeks before being offered the position to assist Madison, I had not worked in almost 14 years. Let me also add, I did not seek out this job, I truly believe divine intervention orchestrated the events that led to M and I being together. But that story is for another day.
Once M returned to school, we had to work. We had to work on learning each other, learning the Tobii, learning the new schedule, and so much more. It was a lot in those first few weeks, but we were in it together. I asked a lot of questions to both school representatives and M’s family. I watched Madison in her surroundings, and I took a lot of notes, mental and physical.
Here is what I learned as a Communication Partner:
- It starts with establishing a relationship. Madison knows and trusts me. From the beginning, I made sure to get to know her. Anxiety is a common Rett trait, so it would only make sense that she was less anxious to respond to me once she felt comfortable with me.
- Always assume competence. Because those with Rett require special services does not mean they are not cognitively capable. The very first time I looked into Madison’s eyes I saw that she was in there. As time went by, I discovered that not only did she have her own thoughts and opinions, but she was capable of learning beyond any preconceived notion or any diagnosis.
- Include! Include! Include! In our time at the school, M did reading groups, math worksheets, PE, Hopscotch, Music and Art Class, Yoga, and so much more. Now, obviously, at home, we have more resources to make things work, but just remember where there is a will there is a way. There is absolutely no reason for a child to sit to the side and watch.
- Celebrate! Some days the fact that M is out of bed is an amazement to me, so when she is productive in any way, I make sure she knows I am proud. Some days that may mean that she responded to a peer greeting on her Tobii or identified sight words correctly on the choice board and others it may just mean moving her hand out of her mouth when asked, I have learned in the Rett world, there are no small feats.
- Speak up! I learned early on that I am here to amplify Madison’s voice when her mother is not with her. Things are a little different now (meaning my mama bear would come out even with her mama standing next to me), but even in the classroom, I did speak up for Madison. Special services are not special treatment. If the location in the room was not working well for my girl then the teacher needed to know that. If Madison was having a hard morning, I vocalized this information. It can be intimidating to speak up in the classroom. We were blessed with some great teachers at our school, but it took creating an open line of communication and relationship with the teachers as well. For the most part, teachers want and appreciate any insight into these special situations.