When My Student With Autism Caught Me Crying Over My Divorce

There are two things I said I’d never do when I graduated: teach junior high and teach special education.

When I graduated my teaching program, Texas was in crisis. Education funding had been cut, districts were laying off teachers and hiring freezes were put in place. To get my foot in the door, I decided to sub.

One day, I got a phone call. Would I mind subbing a classroom of children with autism?

I thought, “Well, you can do anything for a day!” and I agreed. I subbed there for a week, and I fell in love. 

That experience led me to get my special education certification. My first teaching position was another classroom of children with autism. And it was life-changing. These students had already been through three teachers, I was told. These students are elopers, I was told. These students have high behaviors, I was told. These students are yours, I was told.

In the midst of setting up my classroom and learning everything I could about eloping and behavior and structured classrooms, I failed to notice my marriage was falling apart. Two months into my new position, my husband asked me for a divorce.

I was devastated and crying behind my desk. What was I doing here? I can’t teach these kids. I can’t take care of myself. I’ve made a mistake. This is not for me.

My classroom door burst open and running in came one of my most favorite loves. He’d escaped from his assistant (again). I dried my eyes and turned around to greet him. Before I could grab his hand and lead him back to where he was meant to go, he stopped.


He cocked his head to the right, he cocked his head to the left. He reached up and held my head in both of his hands. He smiled. An ear-to-ear smile. He slightly touched his head to mine. He held his head there until I looked at him. He bumped his forehead against mine again and smiled. I smiled back. He bumped forehead with me once more and went off with his assistant.

It was a life-changing moment. 

A wordless, life-changing moment. One I will never forget. In that look, he made my heart hurt less, he made me realize people needed me, he made me realize I was doing what I was supposed to be doing all along, he made me realize I was going to be fine.

I’ve since moved to another district and now teach in a middle school classroom of kids with autism.

And every single day I think of that wordless moment that made me realize I was worthy.

When desks are flying at me, I am worthy.

When routines and schedules get changed and I’m in the middle of using visuals to talk a student through a meltdown, I am worthy.

When I’m getting bit, hit, and kicked, I am worthy.

And you know what? So are they. 

Whatever my students learn from me, I hope the lesson that stays is one it took a third grader with autism to teach me — you are worthy.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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