It’s a well-known fact that resources for autistic kids in public schools can be scarce. But very few schools have a resource like Heather Titley. Informed just three weeks before the beginning of classes that their autistic son Benjamin, 6, would be attending Laurentia, Julie and Martin Lachapelle were “extremely nervous” about their child’s new setting and how he would react to his classmates. But those fears were assuaged when Titley took time off from her summer vacation to spend time with Benjamin, ensuring that he would see a familiar face on day one. Hoping that their son would find at least one friend at school, Julie says she was shocked to visit the school two weeks into the year and find that Benjamin was the most popular student in class. “If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we would have never believed that Ben would be leading a horde of kids around the playground, laughing and having the time of their lives,” remembers Julie. “To this day, I don’t know what Heather has said to these children to make them such fine individuals, but we are so grateful to her.” And she says she will never forget the day Titley invited her to watch the kids perform a Halloween song. “Benjamin sang the loudest and afterward laughed so hard, along with all the kids. It took everything in me not to cry. Today at home, he always sings songs he learns from school and starts laughing uncontrollably afterward, probably remembering how much fun it was to sing and dance with his friends in Heather’s class.” Titley readily credits Benjamin’s in-class attendant, and humbly denies anything remarkable. “I made sure not to separate Benjamin in any way or point anything out, and just encouraged the kids to accept him as he was. But that’s the way I am with all my students,” she says.
Other parents testify to this fact. Nathalie Pelletier, whose son Simon, 6, is not autistic, remembers that Simon, who comes from a French-speaking family, was afraid to leave the comfortable confines of his home and enter an English school. But that’s all changed, thanks to Titley. “She is so dedicated and has made my son Simon love school,” she says. And Lachapelle believes that Titley’s teaching will be far-reaching. “Benjamin’s first social experience with “normal’ children has undoubtedly marked his life and will help him in his lifelong struggle for self-acceptance,” she says. “She is also teaching each of her other students to be open-minded, caring and compassionate.”
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (William Butler Yeats)
Movie that depicts your experience as a teacher:
Kindergarten Cop. “Kids really do say things to their teacher that are that cute and funny!”
One thing you wish every parent knew:
“Read to your children every day, and make sure they get a good night’s sleep.”
Reason you were drawn to teaching:
“In what other job can you read, sing, paint, build, write and play with kids all day long and get paid for it!”
Best teacher gift you have ever received:
Dandelion bouquets after recess.