Favorite Colors

Robert had already been diagnosed as mildly autistic by the time he entered kindergarten. He was assigned one of the three kindergarten teachers in the school he attended. For whatever reason, Robert lasted only five weeks in that classroom. The teacher, who couldn't handle the special needs situation, explained to Robert's parents and the principal, "He doesn't speak at all, and I have no training in dealing with autistic students."

Robert moved on to the second kindergarten teacher. After another six weeks, she, too, gave up. "He demands too much of my time," she explained. "I get no support services for him, and the attention I must give him is hurting the other children. He belongs in some kind of special education classroom."

It was in the third and final kindergarten classroom that Robert met Miss Valerie. As he entered her classroom and was introduced to her by the principal, Miss Valerie dropped immediately to her knees. Looking him right in the eye, at his level, she extended her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Miss Valerie. Welcome to our classroom. You are wearing a purple shirt, and that is my favorite color." She took him by the hand and led him around the classroom. "Look here. We have purple paper. That's my favorite color. And over here you'll find markers. There's a purple one, and you know what that is - my favorite color!"

"Come with me," she told him. "I'm going to read a story to the class, and you can turn the pages. Here, sit right next to me." As Miss Valerie read, she pointed out a purple truck and a purple flower and reminded Robert and the rest of her students that purple was her favorite color.

"Come over here and sit next to Connie," she suggested after the story was finished. "Connie is wearing purple pants, and that's my favorite color. Today we're having juice. It's purple. My favorite color."

For three weeks Miss Valerie made no effort to teach Robert anything. She held his hand frequently and took him wherever she went. She concentrated on building a relationship with him, figuring the teaching could come later. Whenever she could, she pointed out her favorite color.

One morning during his fourth week in the class, Robert entered the classroom with a full grocery sack. He was accompanied by his mother, who explained in exasperated tones, "I tried to stop him, but he insisted on bringing all these things to school. I didn't know what to do, so I let him bring them."

"It's okay," said Miss Valerie. "I can handle it. Don't give it another thought."

Then she turned to Robert.

"Let's see what you have here," she said as she began pulling objects from the sack. First came a purple mitten, then a purple paper plate. These were followed by a purple toy car, a purple plastic cup, and a purple pencil. Six more objects were extracted from the bag. All were purple - all except the last one, which was yellow.

"What is this?" asked Miss Valerie.

"That's yellow," said Robert. "It's my favorite color."