And They Are Still A Message Of Hope!
How exciting it is when I get a call from the family of Comanche’s Drew Ingram to tell me that he has made progress! As most of you know, United has followed the story of Drew Ingram and his fight with Autism for several years now, and that first interview with Drew’s family was one of the most heartbreaking I have ever done, the first article on Drew, one of the most gut wrenching I have ever experienced. In fact, if they were all that painful, I would have closed the door on Texans United long ago.
Today, however, that is not the case. Yes, Drew is autistic and yes, he always will be, but I no longer want to sit down and cry every time I look at any of their faces because the Ingrams have not let Drew’s diagnosis beat them as I once feared, and we have all learned to celebrate every piece of progress that the now nine year old makes. Of course, the person who is most responsible for it all is Comanche Elementary School teacher, Twylah Boatman Beaty, an unbelievably amazing teacher and human being!
By her own admission, Twylah considers Drew one of her own personal children, and she has served as his mom during school hours for years. She has also become like family to Zach and Leanne, both of whom sing her praises to anyone who will listen. They are also both quick to point out that Beaty has served as their confidante and their counselor, and they have leaned heavily upon her, especially in those early days when they were trying to make sense out of a suddenly senseless world.
As is always the case when I enter Comanche Elementary School for a visit with this exceptional teacher, it was with all of these thoughts and half-thoughts whirling through my mind that I entered her very organized chaos to ask about Drew. Beaty wasted no time, jumping into her success story immediately!
“Drew’s accomplishment this year is his ability to communicate. This is the first year that he has gone home and talked about school with his mom and dad. He has left the photos and likes the keyboard better now.”
Beaty went on to explain that they first realized how well Drew could communicate at this year’s school Christmas party. His mom, Leanne, had always attended, but Drew had never seemed to care whether she was there or not. This year, Leanne, who is a teacher herself, decided that she needed to work in her own classroom and did not go to the party. According to his teacher, Drew spent the party hour typing the word Mom.
“That was the first we realized that he even wanted his mom there. Of course, when I told her what had happened, she promised Drew that she would never miss another party!”
And then, Twylah told me how quickly Drew can figure out ways to get what he wants, including pretending to be sick. It seems that he learned to make himself throw up so that he could sleep in his parents’ bed. Of course, as Moms and Dads are prone to do, they caught on to the trick fairly quickly and told his teacher. Below is the conversation she initiated with Drew about the episode.
As you can see, Drew Ingram is now capable of having a conversation. It is not exactly like the conversations you and I might have, but conversations that free him from being locked away inside himself. How wonderful is that!
Comanche Elementary School has been in a transition for quite some time; however, this year grades K-5 are housed in a beautiful new building so Drew has experienced a big move in his life and, of course, children with Autism struggle with change.
“When we came to this campus, Drew began going to Mrs. Everidge’s class. It was actually past time since I teach younger children. He cried and had a bit of a fit. When he got home he typed that he was sad and cried and Mr. [not a typo] Beaty gone.”
On the second day of school, Drew typed to his dad “new school closed.”
“He wasn’t planning to come back, but within about a week, he was better. He comes to me now from 8:30 to 9:30 every morning, and the rest of day he is with Mrs. Everidge. He does reading with me and everything else with her.”
To understand just what a huge transition this year has been for both Beaty and Drew, you have to remember that she and he have been together since Drew was three so of course it has been very hard for both of them. However, it had to happen, and it had to happen this year.
“For the first time, I have twelve students this year. Their ages range from three to nine…”
And whether she will admit it or not, the teacher in me knows exactly what a hard, hard year Beaty has to have had. Just think about it. She is teaching twelve children whose ages range from a three year old to a nine year old. I can’t even imagine the prep work that would go into this type of schedule for someone teaching children with no learning disabilities; however, to have this many children with disabilities on a daily basis…I can’t make my mind think about it!
Quick to point out what great aids she has, Beaty went on to explain that potty training is also part of the job description for some. I couldn’t even come up with a response for that one. I still can’t.
And then, we finished our time together by getting back on topic. Drew still uses his LAMP to communicate, and he carries it with him everywhere he goes. The beauty of the LAMP is that it speaks what Drew types so it does feel like “real” communication, which, of course, it is. According to Drew’s dad, they were driving past the bank one day, when suddenly he began to hear, “Comanche National Bank, Comanche National Bank,” from the back seat. Drew was “talking” to him!
So what are the odds that Drew will one day speak the words for himself?
“At this point, the odds of him speaking like you and I would are not good. Research says that if an Autistic child is not speaking by the age of six, he probably won’t, but there have been cases where children did speak later. Drew has been very delayed in every aspect so we do still have some hope. He uses lots more words aloud now than he did, and I understand him, but you probably cannot. He is not totally silent,” she explained.
And then she showed me how she and Drew work on his reading skills and his speaking skills as well.
“I say the word THE, and he says JUNGLE BOOK.”
“It was very, very hard for me to let Drew move on to another classroom,” Beaty told me one last time. But I have three year olds, and Drew is nine. In my room, he was beginning to mimic the behaviors and attitudes of a three year old. We have come too far to allow that to happen. We have both had to wean ourselves away from each other, me especially. After all, I am his mom at school, and he is my baby, but I knew that we had to do it, whether we wanted to or not,” this very, very exceptional teacher smiled wistfully as she spoke.
And while Tywlah Beaty’s teaching experiences are certainly not my experiences, no one understands better than I the tears that come from letting go of young people who have come to feel like your very own…whether they know it or not.