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A Big Hole at School

Elli always loved school. The people who worked with her there were able to focus 100% of their attention on her, unlike I could when she was at home. They were highly-skilled at finding ways to draw out of a child what was hidden inside their malfunctioning body. We were blessed to be able to find a house we could afford in one of the best school districts in our state, with some of the best special education staff around. I will never be able to thank them enough for their dedication to our little girl.

Elli’s special education specialist spoke at her memorial service this week. She has given me permission to post what she said here. Some of the things she said I hadn’t even heard yet, as Elli had only been in school 2 months and we’d been focused on her medical situation, rather than her education recently.

My name is Lesley. I was TRULY BLESSED to have been Elli’s support educator at her school for the past 2 years.

Elli greeted all of us daily with her sparkling eyes and smile and it just started your day off right. Elli was such a smart girl. She amazed me and everyone who worked with her daily – each session with her I would end by saying “Elli you are such a cool amazing girl!!!” She beamed.

I was teaching her to read. I was very fortunate to attend a seminar recently and they brought in an expert who had done a lot of research and spent time teaching non-verbal students to read. I was so excited about all that I learned and visions of Elli were dancing through my head during the seminar. I rushed home and called Joy to tell her about my excitement. The next time I saw Elli, we dove right in and I said “Elli, I’m going to teach you to read, isn’t that exciting!” She was bouncing in her chair and smiling.

She did amazing during the short time we worked on the program. She was so smart and always impressed me by her eagerness to learn new things.

Her ability to communicate using her Dynovox device was AMAZING. Just last week she was acting very upset during an activity that I knew she loved. So finally I said “Elli HONEY, what is WRONG?” and gave her the device. She IMMEDIATELY navigated through pages to find her feelings page, then pushed “what’s wrong with me is in here” then pushed “I’m thirsty” then pushed “I need a drink” then pushed “put water in my g-tube”. O.K, mystery solved, I gave her a drink and she was a happy girl.

Last school year she was exercising on the mat with Barb, another thing she loved to do. She was fussy, which was not typical. We asked her “Elli, what is wrong?” and she instantly found feelings again, touched “I’m hurt,” found her ankle on her device, and sure enough, when we removed her sock and leg brace, on her ankles we found a red spot. I am sure Elli is enjoying her new ability to communicate in Heaven, and I bet she is talking up a storm.

Elli was such a good friend at school to everyone she was in contact with both special needs and students in her classroom. This year especially we noticed how much she CRAVED those peer relationships

Deb and Barbara (her wonderful para-professionals here at school for the past 2 years ) would comment daily on how great it was watching her light up with the kids in class. She wanted to be everyone’s friend, and she was!

She enjoyed her circle of friends in 3rd grade very much, and those students just adored her.

Elli was a true hero – constantly struggling to get her body to do what she wanted it to do. It was fun watching her make physical accomplishments at Special Olympics. We cheered her on as she played soccer, grasped and lifted a block, bowled, and shot hoops at basketball. Daily we’d get her to exercise in her walker, and boy did she need motivation to get those legs moving. We programmed silly Veggie Tales songs to get her to laugh on a communication switch. That would make her go! On her last day with us at school on Friday she walked 28 feet. She laughed hysterically as she reached the button and pressed the goofy song we had programmed for her.

Elli loved music; at school and during our afternoon group in my room, she would bounce up and down as we sang our Days of the Week song and Months of the Year song. Her spirit was with us as we sang for the first time without her on Tuesday. I was imagining an energized Elli dancing and singing along with us using her new voice and strong legs up in heaven.

Every day as Elli left her classroom, the class would sing “BYE Elli, we’ll MISS you!!” Elli would laugh and smile a radiant smile.

Well… Elli we WILL miss you and know you are smiling down upon us now. Thank you for blessing each of us while you were here. We can’t wait to see you again in Heaven. As we mourn for you here on earth because we miss you dearly, we know that you are now FREE, and we celebrate your life.

We love you, Elli.

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