Will’s voice echoed in the empty gymnasium as he practiced his valedictorian speech to a large empty room with chairs set in long rows, 20 deep. I sat in the last row, along with his speech therapist, social worker, teacher consultant, one of his English teachers, and his younger sister, Patty.
Will needed to get accustomed to microphone feed back. His words echoed, as he labored over them, sometimes sing song, at times too loud or too soft. The rhythm of his speech was off. He patiently endured our suggestions and started again. And again, and again. We spent five afternoons after school in late spring, helping him get ready to deliver his speech.
He put up with the practice because he had labored long and hard to be the valedictorian of his small class. He was identified as gifted in the fifth grade. Although socially awkward, loud, skinny, tall, and sometimes bullied, doing well in school was gratifying. Something he could depend on. Something he knew how to do.
Looking back at this time from six years later, from success in college, and now a good job as a computer programmer at a large corporation, I sometimes forget his labor, his hard work to get where he is now.
He had speech therapy through the 11th grade. He met with a social worker and a teacher consultant until graduation from high school. His handwriting was slow and labored and barely readable, due to small and large motor motor deficits. He met with a therapist specializing in autism when he was in middle school. After he graduated from college, Goodwill assisted him in developing job skills, resume writing, and interview practice. The local rehabilitation hospital taught him to drive.
When he was small, “mentally impaired” were the words that pierced me. Yet, here we are. The long effort in the same direction for so many years has produced sweet, rich fruit. These memories of those years echo distantly. Reading through my journals reminds me.