Special calling for Special Ed

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 2, 2009

Thirteen-year-old Hayden Case is like a lot of other kids hisage: He’s not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, but heknows he’d like to be financially secure.

“I’ll have to pick one and try it out,” he said of all the jobsout there he could possibly do. “Hopefully I’ll find something easythat makes a lot of money.”

And Hayden is also a big fan of Internet site Wikipedia.

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“Do you know what O-T-T-O-M-A-N spells?” he asked. “It’s anempire. I’ll show you on the computer.”

Hayden is a little different, too, and it’s not only because ofhis interest in things like the Ottoman Empire and extrasolarplanets. Hayden is one of Kirk Allen’s special education studentsat Enterprise Attendance Center.

Allen has shepherded a group of special needs children atEnterprise for 22 years now. He and a team of teachers helps thechildren become as adept and independent as they can.

“Our main thing is that we try to teach them self-help skillslike toilet training and dressing and feeding themselves,” he said.”But we also focus on independent living.”

By independent living, Allen said, he means things like cookinga simple microwave meal or how to wash and dry their clothes.

The seven students in Allen’s class are everywhere from 8-17years old. He said Hayden, a great reader and avid learner, is oneof the more advanced ones. There are others who are not as farahead as Hayden is, however.

“Some of these kids are pretty verbal, and there are some thataren’t,” he said, adding that there is a student who has to bemoved to a different bodily position every so often.

The children come to him when it is ruled they need to be taughtin a special environment, but the state mandates that they spendone period a day learning with the regular classes as well. Allensaid they spend physical education with the other children, andHayden and one other student who is a little more advanced alsotake math with the regular special education class for children whoare learning impaired with things like ADD or ADHD.

Another thing the children really get into, he said, is”community skills training,” or the weekly field trips they make onFridays to various places in Brookhaven. One that they reallyenjoy, Allen said, is going to Dairy Queen.

“It teaches them to do basic things like exchange money, or findthe ketchup,” he said. “It’s different than when they do thesethings with their peers. They become more independent in ways youcan’t teach them to be – we try to normalize them to the greatestextent possible.”

And for Allen, he said the 22 years he’s spent weren’t what heplanned, but they’ve been worth every minute. Years ago, when hegot engaged to the daughter of the then-principal at Enterprise, hesaid, he was offered the special ed job.

“I think he was trying to keep me from marrying her and takingher to Louisiana,” he said. “And I fell in love with it, and westayed.”

Part of what makes the job so rewarding is knowing that becausethe children are special, so are their families, and there is aparent-teacher bond that goes beyond a normal classroom.

“When I first started teaching, I had a parent that told me thatif you don’t have the right kind of heart, you can’t do this job,”he said. “And another one that told me, ‘When I drop them off, Idon’t have to worry about them.’ That means a lot.”

Through the years there have been different situations thatAllen can remember specifically, but he said every child he hastaught has been special.

“I just fell in love with them when I started working with them,because to them, everything is exciting,” he said.