I have a very good friend who is a teaching assistant for kids with significant support needs (a new term they have come up with..."don't we all have special needs?" she asks) in the public school where she works. Most are physically disabled in some way, some in huge ways, and most have varying abilities to communicate. We have had long conversations about who these kids are and what they bring to the human table in terms of opening our hearts and minds to different ways of being in the world. We have also talked about her frustration in dealing with the belief systems of educators and even parents who don't share her views about the range of possibilities for these kids. She recently sent me a few brief stories and I realized that I wanted to share them with you here. (The titles are mine.) I have encouraged her to keep them coming. I sense a book in the making.
A Different Way to Travel
Today when we got back to school one of our students decided on his own that instead of cruising the halls on a scooter or in his walker he could push against the floor with his heels while laying flat on the floor and propel himself around. He asked me to open the door so he could head down the hall and several things happened: he really gave his muscles a tough workout, he got the chance to interact with a multitude of people (kids and adults) and he succeeded in achieving his goal to get from our classroom down the hall and around the corner and all the way to his sisters classroom (by our bipedal standards this took a very long time). He reveled in his accomplishment. "I did it!" he kept saying to himself. This is why I love what I do.
When fellow educators pass us more than once in this process we hear everything from "way to go!" to "you are working so hard" to "you aren't getting very far. " I in a state of astonishment that we are all in this same field and yet I have to interject for those latter remarks about how far he IS getting and how very hard he IS working in hopes of shedding some light on a dark mind. This learning curve is greater than the sum of its multidimensional parts and it is not just a need just for kids to be "in school."
Cookies or Sandwich?
We have a first grade student that is blind and is learning to navigate his world in a multitude of ways, including vocalizing his wants and needs. One morning during group when another student is busy passing out lunch cards and giving choices for that day we hear this savvy first grader, who does know what his preferences are, engaging in self talk in preparation for his turn. He is saying repeatedly "Do you want cookies or a sandwich? Cookies or a sandwich?" Cookies would not ever be a meal option, but it is good to know what you want and go for it right?!