When I was a young girl of about six or seven, my dad invited some of his friends over to our home. The couple that visited brought their daughter Hazel Ann with them. Hazel Ann had Down Syndrome. My sister and I were afraid of her. She did not talk, just grunted. She chased us around our house. We hid under the bed. She would find us and make unintelligible noises with her tongue sticking out. We squealed with fear.

Until about three years ago, I still had that fear of mentally disabled people. I questioned the value of having developmentally disabled kids in neuro-typical classes. I never would have considered working with cognitively delayed children. I’m ashamed to admit this but I found them gross. Their bodily functions too messy for me. My patience too short for their cognitive disabilities.

Surprising joy

Flash forward to now, my daily job is working in the DCD room of a local high school. DCD stands for Developmentally Cognitively Disabled. These students’ brains have not and will not develop to the capacity of a typical adult’s. There are students with autism and Down Syndrome in the classroom. There is plenty of messiness but even more smiles and laughter.

It is one of the best jobs I have ever had. My own children can not believe how much I enjoy it. A friend who worked in special education for decades said, “I can’t think of a better place to be than working in a DCD classroom! To be surrounded by the students and see their fortitude, non-judgmental acceptance and non-conditional love fills those around them with joy.” It is true and I never would have believed it until I spent time in the room.

Avoidant types shy away from dependency

As someone with avoidant attachment tendencies, this would seemingly be a tough job. People with avoidant traits do not like a loss of autonomy because then they can’t soothe themselves (which they are used to doing). The dependency of the students  should drive me away but it doesn’t. I think one of the reasons I like the job so much is because I forget myself while I’m working. I am so focused on the kids’ needs and learning that my own stress moves to the back burner.

One of my greatest interests is the human brain and its cognitive, psychological and emotional behavior. The special education classroom gives me a new space to learn and gain understanding.

Although the students at school depend on me to guide them through their day, I still feel a level of autonomy. I get to go home at night without the students. There is some autonomy in how we teach and connect with each student. There is a freedom in not expecting or striving for perfection too.

Less patient at home

Sadly, I did not have the same experience with my own children. My patience wore thin faster at home. Granted, my children and home were my responsibility 24/7. There is something different about doing work outside the home. Helping others outside my home feels good. Helping those in my home often feels like work. At school, I am more appreciated and compensated. At home, it’s expected.

At school, I can focus entirely on the students in my care. At home, there were many other tasks vying for my attention. The truth is I always wanted to focus on nurturing my children but if I did not have the household running perfectly, I felt like I failed at my “job”.

Work makes home better

Both my patience and understanding have grown since I started working as a paraprofessional. Compassion comes easier both at work and at home. Perfection seems less important. I hope the gifts of working in special education spread to my family and friends. I hope the initial fear does not.


What have you sworn you would never do but ended up doing?