Our autism journey included more than a few dedicated teachers who did what they thought best for our son to help us reach our goal of happy and productive. Janet Dodge Batdorf was not only Greg's first grade teacher; she was the first one who welcomed Greg and our family into her life and who never stopped believing in us. She died this week at the age of 82, and we will miss her forever.
As Mrs. Dodge approached retirement, she was given the assignment of not one, but two, students with autism in her classroom. After she read up on autism throughout the entire summer before having Greg, she was optimistic that she could accomplish an inclusive education for both boys. Remember that this was back in 1993 well before autism was a household word.
The first day of school she did not know what hit her. Greg ran out of her classroom, he did not pay attention in class, he peed on trees during recess and he shrieked during class instruction. At the PTO meeting, she announced to the group of parents who'd assembled that she was skeptical about her ability to succeed with this government-mandate of less restrictive environment for special children.
At that meeting I approached her, introduced myself and spoke with her about our aspirations. She listened.
Once she understood our challenges, she stuck with us as a family and got the job done. Not "done" as in she finished out her career without a glitch. DONE, as in she embraced the challenge of educating Greg, she accepted him unconditionally and she showered him with love and dedication unsurpassed in my experience. She, along with another advocate for inclusive practices, Greg's first special ed teacher, taught Greg how to sit in a group and read, she introduced him to the use of a calculator to add and subtract, she encouraged others to befriend Greg and embrace differences in human beings and she respected him. He knew it.
He loved her. His face lit up every time we visited her over the past 20 years. She brought him candies for Christmas, she baked him cookies for our visits, she hugged him and she talked to him normally even though he could not answer her due to significant deficits in his ability to communicate. Recently I took Greg to visit her and he beamed. She did, too. I will forever remember how excited Greg was to see her. I will remember the speech she got out of him. not normal speech, but speech, nonetheless. I will remember asking him, "Greg, who's this?"
Greg's proud answer? "That's Mrs. Dodge."
Greg allowed Mrs. Dodge to hug him. He's autistic. Enough said....