Journal by: Katrina Beattie
We met at my school for autistic children, La La Shou. There was a room full of teachers, speaking in Chinese all at once. I could feel the panic rising up from my feet and sweat dripping down my back! How is this going to work? The room was very humid and everyone was looking at Peace and myself. Baoli, my team leader, began translating in English. I began to relax and a sense of well-being came over me. I knew this is where I was meant to be, here and now, at this moment.
After walking to school, I thought I had seen everything! People were dressed with suits, dresses, ankle length pantyhose, beautiful black haired girls with outfits that would have passed for American dressed girls with the latest attire. People dressed in rags. People with their wares on a towel to sell on the sidewalk, people eating porridge with chopsticks on the sidewalks, reading news, washing their cars, cooking, sitting, and staring at me! The smells were very different. Some were horrible, some were pleasant!
La La Shou means hand in hand in Chinese, One of the parents started the school, as she didn’t know how to educate her autistic son. There is not a special needs program in the schools of China. It operates on donations only. The school is incredible in that the teachers are caring and patient with these children who have short attention spans, can not tolerate loud noises, are obsessive compulsive, cannot stand to have anything wet on their skin and clothes. Most of all, the general population has difficulty accepting them, let alone trying to teach them. With very little money, the teachers and parents have found a way. The students seem very happy, they smile and love to be touched. There are approximately sixty students at La La Shou. They have various difficulties, just like the autistic children in the USA. They can have very atypical social behavior. They are in their own little world and want to stay there.
After meeting with the translators and the head teacher, Global Volunteers, team leader and myself, we decided that I would join the sixth grade. They were all boys and had become oppositional and somewhat aggressive. When I met them, I knew this was the spot for me! One of the students was rubbing his forehead and rocking back and forth. He was not a happy camper! I found out later they were not playing his choice in music.
After one week, when the teachers and I felt they would be comfortable with me. I taught them the English alphabet. They progressed quite well and seemed to be attentive to this strange English teacher from America.
I read them stories. One was “The Three Little Pigs”. THEY LOVED THE STORY AND WANTED TO HAVE IT READ TO THEM SEVERAL TIMES. We said the alphabet and numbers in English and sang songs. They also loved my scrapbook, showing pictures of my family and the museum where I worked, “AbrahamLincolnMuseum.”
The boys at the school were a unique and tight little group with their own way of communicating with one another.
They all wanted English names, that was a really big deal. They loved the cartoon, “Tom and Jerry”, so I named them accordingly. Tie Jiawei (Shea Swek), was given the English name, Jerry. He was nonverbal, was in the top spectrum of autism, and would become very agitated if he could not listen to his favorite songs.
Mickey was very intelligent and learned English phrases quicker than I could learn the Chinese language. Periodically, he would want me to sing “Mickey Mouse” or “Chinese Opera.” He would say English sentences that would come up out of nowhere.
Donald was a crooner that would sing beautiful sad songs with a pretend microphone. I wanted to name him Frank Sinatra, but he liked Donald. His voice had perfect pitch.
One of the student’s was quite low functioning, but understood social behavior well, and was a joy to be around with his continual smile. We named him Shrek. He was a hero in his own sweet way. He also was nonverbal, but somehow was able to communicate with us by pointing and making disjointed sounds.
The last young man was Islo. He was the “assistant principal” of the group. He was constantly making sure his classmates were not wandering off and that they were paying attention in class. Islo was the always smiling as if he were watching a funny play that he was not a part of. He was a tremendous help. He would make sounds and pull us to attract our attention whenever the routine was off schedule or when the other students were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.