When I met Dennis, he was a cute, and charming ten-year-old boy. His innocent face, and sweet voice and mannerisms made him a joy to work with most of the time. However, although, he tried to hold himself together, suddenly, out of nowhere, he would explode. It felt like he was being controlled by a force outside himself. During these episodes of extreme distress, he would throw things, pinch, kick and spit. His adrenaline was extremely high; he had incredible strength. When he was in the throes of one of his fits, it was heartbreaking to watch, and frightening to intervene. These episodes were cyclic and seemed to have a beginning, middle and an end. If I intervened early, often by singing a favorite song, the outbursts could sometimes be averted.
Over time, another problem arose. Dennis became incredibly attuned to me, and he began acting on my fears. Whenever I was afraid he would do something destructive or dangerous, within a matter of seconds, he would. For example, I spotted a pair of scissors and was afraid he might throw it; instantly, he did. At the time, I questioned whether subtle eye cuing might have had some influence. It was uncanny and unnerving!
One morning, I woke up at about 5 a.m., as a vision of the heavy stapler on the desk in my classroom popped into my head. I was thinking that I should remove it from the room like I had other heavy objects in case Dennis had an impulse to throw it at someone. That morning, shortly after school began, and before I removed the stapler, I saw Dennis had it in his hand. Before I could intervene, He flung it toward a classmate's head. Speechless, I watched as his classmate moved his head to the side as the stapler flew by within an inch of his ear. I was so thankful that nothing happened! At the time, all this telepathy stuff was new to me. I thought maybe I was having premonitions. Overtime, I realized that he was acting on my fears. I had many similar experiences with him and as much as I loved him, I was relieved when he moved on to another classroom. If I had met him later in my career, I would have better known how to keep an even mind and control my fears. Maybe, that would have helped, but then again, maybe not.
Although many students have typed or said words I have telepathically sent them; thankfully, Dennis is the "only" person who ever acted on my thoughts or fears. It was extremely unnerving!
Lessons Dennis taught me:
• Some children may experience sudden violent psychotic outbursts that seem totally out of their control. It appears as if they are controlled by an outside force.
• With these children, it is important to intervene as early as possible to possibly avert the situation. If the child is in the throes of it, just try and keep everyone safe until the cycle is complete.
• It is important to keep your mind calm and clear—free of clutter and most importantly of fear. Rarely, very sensitive children may pick up on your fear-based thoughts and act on them. (Though many children have typed and spoken what I have mentally sent or sub-vocalized, this is the only child who physically acted on my fears.)
I have served as a teacher of individuals with autism for 18 years. What they have taught me was to be sure of nothing, and open myself to the extraordinary. Please check out my articles for further understanding. Anecdotes on other atypical behaviors of some of the remarkable children are also available.
Mary Ann Harrington
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