Valentine’s Day and Room 623

Every day the unexpected occurs in Room 623. This year was no different for Valentine’s Day.

Over the years, the teacher had tried to find easier ways to distribute Valentine’s to the children. With a room full of children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) she knew the more structured the activity, the better the day would go.

More often than not, some of the children would not bring their Valentine’s even after notes were sent home. Others would bring them without any names on them even though a list was sent home.

The teacher learned to always have lots of Valentines on hand for those who forgot to bring them. She had found that one of the easiest thing to do was to have children just write their last names on the back of the Valentines.

It was hard for some of the children to write lots of names on the cards. It wasn’t unusual for students with ASD to have fine motor skills challenges. So the simpler the writing assignment the better. This way, the students could simply walk around the room and give out a Valentine to each of the students.

One Valentine’s Day a few years ago, Brian brought dinosaur Valentines from home. He had already signed all of them without putting the children’s names on them. He waited while the other children wrote names on their Valentine’s. Some zipped through the work while others needed help from the staff.

Then the big moment arrived. It was Brian’s turn to go around the room and give his Valentines out. Well, it didn’t go as expected. Brian was fine on receiving the other boys and girls Valentines.

The problem was he liked his Valentines and did not want to give them up. Give up dinosaurs for Disney or animal cards? Not a chance.

The teacher had a challenge to help Brian learn he had to share. He got to keep one of his dinosaur cards but the rest had to be given out. It brought a lot of tears for his first Valentine’s party.

As time passed, new children came into the room and Brian was no longer the youngest. This year he had dinosaur’ cards once again but the teacher had cool dinosaur Valentines that were 3-D along with 3D Iron Man, Spider Man and some very unusual Peter Max cards.

Because everyone had brought their own cards, she decided to drop her extra ones into the bags early on. The staff passed out some special turtle candy Valentines too. That way, the Valentine bags all had a head start to give the kids a good idea of what exchanging cards meant. It was going well. This time, everyone had the names of “To and from” on them.

The students had to listen for the student names so they would put them in the right bag. For those that read, the pride and independence was fun to watch. This year’s problem was waiting for each child to bring the Valentines to their friends. Brian kept saying, “I want one” as he waited for his to come. Mark was constantly saying, “What about mine?” Another, Randy was already repeating, “Popcorn and movie.” That was because one of the students brought bags of popcorn for all the children and Randy was ready for the next event. We had promised the children a movie and pizza for Valentine’s Day.

The teacher had come to see Valentine’s Day as a great opportunity to learn sharing, to listen to directions and to practice writing. The children had found the day to be a great time for social play and simply having a lot fun with their classmates.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at downpamg@aol.com.