For UMaine students, the lessons come in stages, according to Butterfield. First, there’s fear — of the unknown, of failure. Then there’s anger at Butterfield, especially in the early, frustrating weeks. Next comes competence — the realization that they actually can do it. Then confidence. And finally, ownership.
“Most of them take the course and have an epiphany,” Butterfield says. “At first, they’re afraid, apprehensive, nervous, but then they come around. They start to refer to their participant as ‘my’ student. If you see students who took this class 20 years ago, they’ll remember the name of the person they worked with and be able to describe their experience in detail.”
For Chloe Tinkler and Claire, the epiphany happened relatively early. Every time they went in the pool together, Claire would start sobbing after a few minutes, but because she’s nonverbal, she couldn’t tell Chloe why.
“I didn’t know what was bothering her so much and it tore me up inside trying to figure out what she needed, what was going on inside,” Tinkler recalls. “It was difficult.”
Working with Claire’s teachers at Green House Nursery School in Milford, Maine, she learned that Claire is terrified of water that is over her head. She also learned that Claire needs visual aids to understand what’s expected of her. So Chloe scoured the Internet and developed a series of laminated posters to show Claire exactly how to do certain activities. For example, the illustration that demonstrates how to throw a ball shows where her feet should be and what the arm motion should look like.
By the end of the semester, it was clear that Claire loved the lessons that Chloe prepared for her. She put her whole body into a game of catch. She waded in the shallow end of the pool without fear. She walked through the gym, hand in hand with Chloe, beaming.
“These kids are very capable,” Tinkler says. “You need to make sure that the first thing you see isn’t their disability. You need to see what they’re capable of — that’s how you build a program around them, a program that meets their needs.”
And in the process of meeting their young charges’ needs, UMaine students also learn and grow.
“It’s rewarding to me to see the strides that these kids are making, but it’s even more rewarding to see the development of my students,” Butterfield says. “They will learn more about themselves as human beings over the course of a semester going through this class. That’s a lot of development over a short period of time.”