I met Kimmie when she joined my self-contained class as a kindergartner. She came with quite a dossier. Most of her young life had been spent in the foster care system; she was kicked out of a long list of day care centers because of her severe behavior problems; and her IQ was assessed in the 40’s. She had a twin brother out there somewhere in the world of group homes.
My first impression of Kimmie: she seemed to be a feral child. A cute feral child. A feral child equipped with an engine set in 6th gear. She didn’t talk much but made up for that in mileage around the room. She exploded into my class with no apparent socialization or understanding of group life at all. Had I not reviewed her history, I would have thought she’d been raised by tigers. Other kids? She viewed them as the enemy, for the most part. They were in her way, everyone in the space she wanted to occupy for a moment or holding the materials she demanded. She would bite if grabbing didn’t work.
My class was organized around predictable routines, consistent rewards and consequences with frequent praise; clear and high expectations; and FUN. I figured that we should enjoy our time together, so relationships were at the top of my list. I approached Kimmie with all of the above, but firm consistency and silliness were my best allies in her socialization process. I found ways to slow her engine into 3rd gear, often with playfulness.
Patience, gentleness, and humor made the first chinks in her armor. Kimmie smiled during her first week and then she laughed. That laugh! It rang through the classroom! It echoed in the hallway. I’m surprised the entire school didn’t hear it. I knew we were going to be fine. Kimmie and I played our way through through social skills, reading, and math. Every activity was kept short and sweet, leaving her with a desire for more. In that dismal dossier of hers, someone had described her as having “street smarts,” but as I watched her lightning quick responses, I could see more than a (remarkable) ability to survive. In fact, I could see a really sharp mind at work.
With glee and that raucous laugh, Kimmie quickly learned the “system” in my class. She was handsomely rewarded for her efforts. She discovered that it was much more fun to play school than to run like a wild child. She learned to read very quickly. I had to keep reminding myself that she was only 5. Kimmie became the proverbial sponge, albeit a sharp-tongued sponge, soaking up every nuance, displaying a facility for learning that was miles beyond her IQ scores. Kimmie wanted me ALL to herself, so social skills remained more challenging. But what a gutsy learner she was. She had her hands in every science experiment, never gave up on areas of interest, loved all our field trips, and laughed her way through it all.
I discovered that she did NOT have literal street smarts as we ventured into the community on walking field trips to restaurants. She approached each street corner as a challenge: how quickly could she dash across a road? So we held hands and she developed restraint. I will never forget a trip to a posh seafood restaurant. The owner gave free rein to my squad (bless his heart!) and Kimmie was soon sampling every sort of sea creature. She never met a food she wouldn’t try, never met a button or knob she wouldn’t push, never met a rule she wouldn’t stretch to its limits. In short, she was a delightful dynamo. I loved her.
To speed ahead, I paired her with a buddy from a regular classroom, she started spending time in that class (still laughing but anxious about this process), and in fourth grade, was out of my room and in the mainstream of education. Her IQ was retested, she scored in the superior range, and was placed in a program for gifted kids. She did well for the rest of her school career, with a few glitches here and there.
To this day, I love my unconventional, laughing, and adorable Kimmie. She’s a mom with her own girl who runs wildly through stores and drives HER teachers a little crazy. Kimmie is a twice exceptional person, a survivor of abuse and poverty, a brilliant woman with a laugh that will make your day.