Tommy lay face down on the floor crying his eyes out. Parish School of Religion wasn’t easy for him. He was six years old and recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder, for which he took daily medication. To top things off, I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. My illness had completely destabilized him. His teacher, Mrs. Nielsen, bless her heart, was trying to reason with him and get him off the floor. The rest of the kids in the class were looking on in a state of confusion. What was wrong with this little boy? I was beside myself. The whole thing was very frustrating. Why couldn’t my kid be just like everybody else’s?
Our saving grace was a woman named Marie who also had a child in Tommy’s class. Marie’s child had autism, and Marie knew how to work with special-needs children. In fact, she was a special-needs teacher. Every week, she made a picture schedule to help Tommy get through the class with no surprises. Tommy didn’t like surprises. He liked to know ahead of time exactly how things were going to go. So Marie provided a schedule for Tommy in the form of pictures. If the class was going to pray, she drew two hands praying; if it was time for a Bible verse, she drew a picture of the Bible, and so on.
Let’s just say that Tommy made it through first-grade PSR, but the whole experience was excruciating for him, and for his father and me. When Tommy wasn’t making a scene in the classroom, he was running up and down the hallways of the school, shouting like a banshee. He also had behavioral issues.
I knew things had to be different. Vacation Bible School was coming up, and I wanted Tommy to attend in the most normal fashion we could muster. Feeling I couldn’t do it alone, I went to our religious-education director and asked for help. Diane was very compassionate, and she empathized with me over the difficulty of attending to a special-needs child while battling breast cancer at the same time. She showed me the love of Jesus. And she also came up with an idea.
“What Tommy needs is a special-needs buddy,” she said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“An older child who will act as a personal aid for him at Bible School.”
“Where are we going to get one of those?” I asked.
“I could put out a call to the high school students and see if anyone wants to volunteer to work with him.”
“That would be wonderful,” I said. I started to have hope that things could be better. Diane worked her magic (with the Lord’s help), and lo and behold, a teenager stepped forward. Her name was Abby, and she wanted to assist us. Abby was a sophomore at the local high school. She was the answer to a prayer.
Abby met Tommy at summer Bible School every morning and essentially walked through his day with him. When he ate a snack, she ate a snack. When he learned Bible verses, she learned Bible verses. When they played outdoors, she played outdoors. And it was a success. Tommy wasn’t afraid to attend the week of Vacation Bible School because of the help and kindness Abby offered.
All he needed was a little personal support.
By Laura Yeager