(By Chris Sharp) I remember Jasmine well.  She was either in her playpen or in her wheelchair.  She was maybe 70 pounds and maybe 15 years old.  Since birth, she had lived with a condition that shut down against her becoming normally nourished and strong, or being able to talk or listen.

She was in a class of what had been described as one for the “severely handicapped” in her public high school, yet her challenge was far greater than any other student in the class.  She spent the hours of her class in three places; in her playpen decorated with colorful and moveable toys, in front of a computer screen at a student desk to watch animated scenes with lively music, and being pushed around the school outdoor property in her wheelchair by a para-educator during the class’s physical education break.

It may be common to find people who try to make themselves more marketable to social access, so they learn to play a guitar toward being invited to more guitar-needed parties, or they learn Spanish so that they can acquire more Mexican-American friends and join them in a Spanish fete.  But there could be no ulterior motive in becoming friends to Jasmine.  She could not understand what you said.  She could not talk to you, or play music to you.  There was no money that would ever be around her to transact a business deal with you.

So, friendship with Jasmine could only exist with one purpose; an altruistic purpose.

As I made my rounds in my teaching role every couple into Jasmine’s class, my goal with Jasmine was more for myself than a goal for her.  I needed to develop the patience to be satisfied with some non-verbal hours with the goal of successfully smiling with her.  Smiling was something Jasmine could do, brilliantly, and she would do that to reward what she appreciated.

For example, after so many hours in her playpen, she would greatly appreciate being wheeled to a computer where she could view and listen to the animated music.  When this was in full swing, she smiled brilliantly, much better than any smile I had tried myself, but then again smiling was not what I was known for.  In contrast, smiling was what Jasmine was famous for. 

In other areas of the class, students of the “extreme handicapped” category were learning the rudiments of reading and writing.  Many of these students dealt with their ongoing autism and Down Syndrome.  But the rudiments of reading and writing were far beyond what Jasmine was equipped to do.  Only one other student – a boy named Joseph – was also in a wheelchair with a kind of physical siege suffered along with cognitive devastation.

Truly the special education classes of cognitively challenged students have increased enormously in the past 50 years with the aggressive increase in the number of child autism cases in the U.S. in that time.

Read more here: A Sharp View: Goodbye to Jasmine