My first day as a Para-educator is etched in my mind permanently and the reason is because of a little blonde hair boy named Max. My job was to assist in the classroom with the kids who are enrolled in the Exceptional Child Program. These kids have a wide ranging variety of battles from the physical to things like ADHD. Max has ADHD, but that was not his biggest battle. Let me take you back to Russia and a 2 year old boy that no one wanted. A 2 year old blue eyed, blonde baby boy abandoned to a Russian Orphanage. I will leave the rest of that part of his story for his mother to share on her new blog From Russia, with Love and ADHD. I will, instead, move forward to when Max was 4-1/2, when he found his true parents who brought him home to America. Max did not speak English and you can just imagine the psychological trauma that he faced before and during his life in the orphanage. So to say that Max was prone to ‘outbursts’ is putting it mildly.
When I first met him, he probably didn’t weigh much more than 40 pounds, but WHEW he could muster the strength of a full grown man. Anyway, when I walked into the room he was focused on tying his shoes – he was in 1st grade. He was in the middle of the floor and the lead teacher wanted him to stop, immediately. Max ignored her. Max ignored me. I have a certification in non-violent restraint so I bent down to help Max up; my plan was to take him aside and quietly talk with him. First day idiocy on my part – at that point Max viewed any physical contact, that was meant to make him do something he didn’t want to do, a direct threat; who could blame him. He only wanted to tie his shoes after all. I wound up picking him up and walking out of the room with him, he was screaming at me, but I honestly couldn’t figure out what he was saying. However, by the time I got across the hall with him, he was calm and ready to go back to class. I was a little stunned at how fast the ‘incident’ was over, then I realized that while I was carrying him he had managed to tie his shoes; I immediately became his biggest fan.
About a week later, also during carpet time, Max decided he wanted to play with items inside his desk instead of joining the class on the carpet. Let me take a minute to say that there were many of us adults not handling this situation in a way that met his needs at that point; that didn’t last long. I bent down in front of him, eye to eye, and told him he had to go to the carpet or we had to leave. He told me NO, to both. He then wrapped those little legs around the legs of his chair and refused to move. So I just picked up the entire chair and carried him out of the room; which brought an unbelievably shocked look to the faces of every single 1st grader and their teacher. Max loved it; he became a fan of Mrs. Turner in that moment. He was laughing so hard he forgot he was mad and the whole incident was forgotten.
Max’s outbursts could be violent and scary at times, the person they scared the most was Max. Toward the end of that school year, almost the last day, he had a particularly bad one. He stayed with me in the resource room for the remainder of the day. Toward the end of that school day I took him outside for some calming sensory time on the preschool playground. We bounced a ball for a while, and then he decided he wanted me to hold his hand while he walked on the edging around the mulched area; finally, he went to the climbing equipment where he wanted to jump so Mrs. Turner could catch him. So this is what we did for quite a while.
At some point I looked at him and said “you’re a pretty cool kid Max”. To which Max replied “you love me?” I said, “Of course I do Max” and he said “cause’ I’m good now, I’m not being mad”. I stopped him, picked him up, put him on the concrete and kneeled down in front of him, again eye to eye. I said “Max I love you all the time, even when you’re really, really mad; I always love you”. He looked at me and said “always”. That was the last outburst Max ever had, to a violent degree, at school. Now I’m not saying it was just because of our talk, but I do believe that was part of it. He knew that he had a grown-up, at school, who was on his side no matter what.
That was 4 years ago and today Max is a daily part of my home life. He is like a cousin to my daughters and a nephew to my husband and I. Max overcame a language barrier, abandonment, fear, anger, insecurity and a whole host of other things that would cripple most adults. He just received an amazing report card and is getting ready to test for the highest degree blue belt. He has spent Easters with us, kept my father company when we installed our pool and has brought genuine joy into the lives of everyone he meets.
His own story is something only his amazing mother can tell. I can only speak from the impact he has had on my life. Max has a little brother now, adopted from the same orphanage in Russia. He still struggles with ADHD, but to the eyes of those who have seen him come so far, he is the epitome of a walking miracle. He is also my inspiration on the days when I feel that diabetes is a giant too big for us to handle.
My Max……he has taught me more than I could have ever taught him.
Max and Amber in our pool
Max and his adorable little brother Brayden in Disney World