Ben’s partial year at Henry Clay Elementary was a very special time. At the age of six, he was just beginning to build his strength enough to stand unassisted and we knew that it was just a matter of time before he defied all the experts and began walking on his own. His special education and kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Squyers and Mrs. Unger, were very kind and made sure Ben was included in as many activities as his very short attention span would allow. They attended many plays and book readings put on by local residents; after which I would get a report on exactly how many minutes Ben would stay engaged in the activities. Every improvement was celebrated by all. This year was particularly special because it was the year he met Doris. Doris was the aid in Ben’s special education class, and a person with which he built an especially close relationship. She ended up following him throughout his elementary and middle school years until her retirement. Doris had a gift that is rare even among people who spend their entire careers teaching children with intellectual disabilities. Her gift was an ability to show a child just how much she loved him while at the same time being firm enough to let them know that they must behave themselves. Doris’ arrival on the scene could not have come at a better time. As Ben got stronger physically his stubborn, independent streak began to grow. It was at this time that Ben began to hit. At first it was swipes of the hand when he was being asked to do something he didn’t want to do. However, over the years this became more of a problem as he grew bigger and stronger. Doris was one of the few people who Ben never seemed to “test” with this new behavior. To this day I don’t know what she did that made the kids respond as they did, but like I said, she had a gift.
In March Mrs. Unger’s class participated in the spring talent show. They all wanted Ben to take part and made sure he attended all the practices so he would know exactly what to do. Doris was right there with him the whole time. I’ll never forget the night of the play when the class got up to sing their song. Ben walked right up there with Doris’ help and stood with the class as they sang. Though he didn’t sing, he did all the hand gestures (with Doris’ help) in unison with the class. To say the least, mom was in the audience crying her eyes out getting stares from everyone around her (“Good Lord woman, it’s just a school play!”). Little did any of them know; this was something that in my wildest dreams I never thought I would see.