Hi! I’m Ben and I’m Going To First Grade!
Ben listened to his older brothers’ chatter as he watched out the bus window while riding to school. It was an exciting day for Ben and his stomach was full of butterflies. He was going to a new school and to first grade!
When the bus finally arrived at school and Ben got off, his good friend Linda was there to meet him. “Ready to go to first grade?” she asked brightly.
Ben gave her a broad smile and a nod. He surely was ready to go. Ben had waited for a long time to learn to read, and that was exactly what he was going to learn in first grade.
Ben and Linda went into the classroom. Excited, he began to search the room for someone he knew. At the reading area were a boy and a girl pointing at Ben. They appeared to be making fun of him. He was not sure he was going to like this class after all. It made him feel bad when people covered their mouths, whispered and pointed at him.
“Good morning, Ben. I’m glad you are here. We have much to learn in first grade and you will do just fine,” said Miss Reece kindly. She was Ben’s new teacher and had visited his home last week. He had been almost certain he would like Miss Reece’s class. She told him many things that he would do that year at school. It all sounded wonderful to him.
“Come children. Find your desks and let’s begin our day by meeting each other,” called Miss Reece.
Linda and Ben found his desk while the other children found theirs. Miss Reece went to the front of the room. “I would like for everyone to stand by your desk, tell us your name, and maybe a little about yourself, what you like to do and your age. I want you to become friends so you can play with each other during free time. Let’s begin over here,” said Miss Reece as she glanced toward a little girl with dark, brown wavy hair and freckles on her nose.
The girl shyly stood by her desk and said, “I am Katie. I am six and I like to swim.” She then sat down quickly.
Gee, Ben thought – I am six and I like to swim too. Maybe Katie will be my friend.
Jeff was next. He said he was seven and would rather be playing baseball than come to school. Then there was Peter and Michael and Joe.
Joe, that was the boy who had pointed at Ben when he came into the room. Ben wasn’t sure Joe would be his friend. He didn’t like people talking about him like Joe did.
Before he knew it, it was Ben’s turn. All the children turned and stared at him. The room was unusually quiet. He could not stand by this desk. In fact, he did not even sit behind it like the other children. Ben was in a blue wheelchair. He had blocks at his sides and blocks over his shoulders to help him sit up and a thing up behind his head. The wheelchair had a tray on it with a board sticking up in front of him. To really make matters worse and give the children something to laugh about, there was a light on his head. Ben had cerebral palsy, but he still could go to first grade.
Miss Reece asked, “Can you tell us your name?”
Ben nodded ‘yes’ and began to tell the other children his name. He moved his headlight to different places on the board. His friend Linda spoke, “B E N, Ben.” Then as Ben continued to move his head in different directions she said, “I like to swim. I am six. I want to have friends. I want to learn to read.”
“What’s the matter? Can’t you talk?” asked Joe with a taunting voice.
That did it! Ben was a little upset and now began to move his head again with a strong look of determination on his face. Linda spoke for him, “I talk with my communication board.”
Ben listened as Miss Reece asked Joe if he would like to be Ben’s voice. “Gosh no,” Joe exclaimed. “I don’t want to do that. My mom says not to bother people in wheelchairs. They don’t understand anyway.”
This made Ben extremely unhappy. He did understand. He had feelings just like the other children.
He looked to Miss Reece who decided to let it go at that. She told Ben what a nice job he had done talking to the class. She gave him a reassuring smile and went on to the next child. Linda also gave Ben a pat on the shoulder to let him know he did just fine.
When all the children had introduced themselves, it was time to begin some paperwork. Miss Reece gave the children papers and asked them to mark the picture that was different. Linda reached into Ben’s pack on the back of his wheelchair and got out a little helmet with a stick on it. She taped a crayon on the stick and propped Ben’s paper up on the board on his tray. She put the head pointer on his head. He began to mark his paper. Joe was curious and glanced out of the corner of his eye to see what Ben was doing. Imagine, writing with your head, he thought. How dumb!
After Ben had made several marks on his paper, he looked up and said, “Oouuu…”
“Yes, Ben. Are you finished?” asked Miss Reece. He again nodded his head for ‘yes’.
“Very good, Ben. They are all correct,” said Miss Reece after she looked at his paper. Then she explained to the class that Ben could not write and color with his hands, but he could mark his papers with his head pointer.
Joe was rather puzzled by now. Gosh, just think, having to write with your head. That must be hard, he thought to himself. Maybe Ben did understand what people said. Miss Reece said he got everything right on his paper too.
Soon it was free time. Ben asked Linda to take him to the reading area. Katie was there and Ben wanted to say hello to her. “Oouuu,” Ben vocalized. Linda told Katie to stand where she could see the light on Ben’s board. Katie slowly moved around his wheelchair. Quickly Ben put his light on a picture of a person waving and saying . Linda spoke for Ben, “Hi!”
Linda told Ben she had to leave for a minute. She would be back soon for math class.
Although Joe’s mother had told him that people like Ben were different and not to get involved, he now realized Ben really did know what was going on around him. So, he decided to take a closer look at that chair and board. He had never seen a chair that had so many screws and knobs. Ben had his own pack for his lunch, sweater, light, head stick, books and toys. He had a special place for his feet too. When Joe looked at the board, there were so many pictures on it, even real pictures of Ben’s family and friends.
Joe thought a moment. Oh yes, he wants me to be his friend. Joe considered the question and finally said, “Yeah, I guess we could be friends. Can I have my picture put on your board too with these pictures?” he asked as he pointed to Ben’s family.
“OOUUU…”. That made Ben feel fantastic!
Miss Reece had been watching Ben and Joe from a distance. She was pleased that Joe could understand Ben’s communication board and had changed his mind about people in wheelchairs.
“Children, please come to your desks. Time for math,” called Miss Reece. Joe pushed Ben’s wheelchair to his desk while the other children watched. “Ben and I are friends. He said I could even put my picture on his communication board,” Joe announced proudly.
The boys exchanged smiles. Ben felt elated about his new friend as he watched Joe walk to his desk across the room.
Soon it was time for Ben to go home. As he got on the bus, he thought, what a great day it was to be in first grade!
Note: This story was written in the fall of 1985 when Ben was starting first grade. This is an example of how low technology was used for communication before the computers available today were developed.