I am a student – turned teacher – turned fitness instructor.

I am a best friend – turned girlfriend – turned wife.

I am a small town girl with all of my {hundreds of} relatives in the same town – turned mother of an Army brat with my ‘family’ around the world and bigger than I ever imagined.

dopey kelli

I believe each step we take on this adventure we call “Life” is one step closer to the person and place we are supposed to be. Each one of my steps is part of the foundation that has led me to right here – writing this bio for Stroller Strong Moms’ Light Up Columbus Autism 1k/5k/10k.

Like I mentioned above, in my life Before Baby (which I like to refer to as B.B.) I was a teacher…a special education teacher, actually.  And man-oh-man did my students with Autism truly capture my heart…I mean stolen – completely.  I can admit, however, it wasn’t always like that.

When I worked in Alabama, I worked in a middle school with students who most of which had learning disabilities.  Our students with Autism were considered severe and received most of their education from another teacher in a self-contained setting.  When I moved to Kansas, I entered the elementary world with students consisting of a greater variety of disabilities.  My second year there was definitely one for the records.  Due to a number of different reasons, I was the only special education teacher…and for some reason we had a huge influx of students with disabilities move into our school – leaving me with 40 on my caseload at one point…9 of which had Autism.  If you don’t know anything about Autism, one of the biggest pieces to this disability can be broken down into several different components.  You can have a student who is highly intellectual, but lacks social skills; a student who is nonverbal; a student who does not know how to communicate emotions causing behavioral outbursts; or any magnitude and combination of all the above.

Out of my 9 students, almost all of them lacked the skills needed to communicate efficiently…causing many outbursts that disrupted the classroom lesson and required them to be removed from the setting.  At first, I was exhausted and bewildered.  Up until this point, I had the basic 101 training in Autism, leaving me less than confidant in what I was doing, and constantly searching for what to do in order to help these students be successful in the general education setting.  How could all of these students with the same disability be so INCREDIBLY different? I poured my heart and soul into this world and these students.  I spoke with specialists, attended behavioral conferences, and read and read and read about this topic.   Naturally, as much as I studied about this topic, I studied my students, too.

{This, folks, is where the magic happens}

Without realizing it, those little puzzle pieces, which completely left me baffled at times, fit themselves perfectly into my heart with their unique and individual personalities and differences on the Autism spectrum.  I learned that, yes, each one of them was entirely different from the next one…but isn’t everyone?  That’s what makes them (and all of us) stand out from the rest of the crowd.  Even if they just happened to shine a little brighter, they were just that more perfect.  My students and I grew an incredible bond that year and I learned more about them {and myself} than expected.  I was no longer that student – turned teacher with minimal experience on this topic – I became a teacher who found her niche and was truly passionate about her students.

‘Girlfriend – turned wife’, also came with the Army in tow; and in the military, duty calls, and we had to leave Kansas at the beginning of the next school year…and I can’t lie and say I didn’t shed some tears walking away from those kiddos.  I also became a mommy and left the active teaching world…but still desire to grow professionally in the area of Autism.  I am currently working on my Masters degree to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst to provide behavioral therapy for children with Autism.  Without that year – that intense year – I wouldn’t be the person I am today with the passion I have in this field…again, just one step leading me to where I am supposed to be.

kelli

I still think about those students often and wonder if they still pretend they are a dinosaur, LOVE Dragon Ball-Z, or monitor their emotions by colors.  I may never know, but I will always cherish that special place they hold in my heart.

When I heard {my extended family} Stroller Strong Moms  – another area of my life that I’m crazy-passionate about – was hosting their first ever race in support of Autism, my heart couldn’t help but leap for joy.  I can’t make an impact on their daily lives in the classroom anymore because my job as a mommy has taken priority over that – but I can make an impact by running in support of Autism Speaks!  {YESSSS!!!}  Yet another example of how Life leads to the places you are supposed to be…teacher – turned fitness instructor.

dopey

If someone would have told me a year and a half ago that my worlds of Stroller Strong Moms and being a teacher would collide – I would have laughed in their face.  Yet, here I sit, watching those two beautiful worlds rotate around one another and evolve into one.

On Friday, April 18th, I run for those students … and will undoubtedly reflect on each and every one of them that made me who I am today.

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