A few times in my career, I wrote medical excuses to keep students from doing homework. I know it sounds ridiculous, but what I saw were students who were in great mental pain, as were their families, from homework that was way beyond their means, especially due to significant mental health disorders that affected their ability to learn and their ability to even engage in the process of learning or wanting to be in a learning environment. When they got home all they wanted to do was crawl under their blankets, but instead their parents felt that they must drag them to the kitchen table and make them do homework. There were a number of times that the student would go off the deep end and the police were called.
Removing homework stabilized the families. The schools had to find a different means of working with the student. In the end, the students didn’t fail – although they would have if they hadn’t turned in their homework. The students did learn.
There is a new series on A&E called Born This Way. It is about a group of young adults with Down Syndrome. I feel this is a must watch for all adults who come in contact with children/students with disabilities, of which Down Syndrome is just one. Despite all the talk about the advances in awareness and methods of intervention to help people with disabilities, I have personally seen too many instances of under expectations for children with Down Syndrome and other disabilities. In our society at the present time 70% of individuals with disabilities of working age can’t find employment.
I feel that expectant parents should watch this to counter the talk about individuals with Down Syndrome being unable to be a part of society, unable to be independent in any way. Yes, they may need more support than a typically developing child, but now days even typically developing children are needing more support for extended periods of time due to the economy and the cost of a liberal arts education. Even my children are needing some support due to job hours limitations due to the employers need to provide health insurance for employees working more than 28 hours per week.
I have patients in my practice who have Down Syndrome in their 20’s. Their parents were told to either abort, or if it was not known until delivery, to put their newborn baby into an institution because they would always need total support, would not be able to learn, etc. Born This Way, goes a long way to show that these predictions are so limiting. My patients were discriminated early on regarding educational expectations. I, along with others, helped their parents learn to advocate for more in school or to seek it out on their own. Great strides were made by this advocacy. A young man with Down Syndrome, who also inherited his mother’s dyslexia, received appropriate tutoring for dyslexia and went from not reading at all to reading at 2nd grade level in one year. A young man with mild intellectual development disorder, who also had dyslexia, who went from not reading to reading at 4th grade level in less than 2 years.
Let’s make 2016 the year that we learn from individuals with disabilities, like the cast of Born This Way. Let’s vow to see everyone as having potential to be explored, not limitations to be enforced.
Below is the link to an article written by a relatively new teacher (about 5 years in the classroom) who lists all the things that she has done for her students and all the struggles they have experienced during her tenure. She is strongly considering quitting the profession but wants the policy makers to understand why.
This burnout is not just occurring in the schools. If you ask any of the professionals whose passion is helping children and adolescents, you will year the same issues, the same frustrations, and the same hopelessness about how we, as a society, are letting down our youth.
Please start a conversation here or among your colleagues about what she has said and what we can do, both at the grassroots level and at the policy level to turn this around. One thing is certain, we need our “in the trenches” professionals to be part of the conversation and solution, not just the ones who have to live with the “wisdom” of others.
In a general population the prevalence of sensory processing disorders is 1 in 20 according to literature by Lucy Miller OT. When you talk about the autism spectrum disorders, this number goes to much higher levels although an actual prevalence rate has not been determined due to the controversy about the reality of the disorder.
While not everyone believes in a sensory processing disorder (also known as a sensory integration disorder), their is belief that there can be significant sensory processing deficits for individuals in the autism spectrum and ADHD. This is important because sensory issues can and do affect how well these children and adolescents tolerate their environments. The more overwhelmed they feel, the less they will be able to interact with their environment. Some may run away, some may lash out, and others will just shut down where they are.
When I talk about Never Assume, like in my book, I am referencing the need to really find out what is behind the behaviors we notice. We need to take the time to think about various possible reasons that are triggering a fight or flight response in the child or adolescent. By truly understanding the source(s) of the behaviors, we can begin to develop empathy and interventions to improve the quality of life for him.
Next time you find yourself getting upset at a child for inappropriate behavior, please take a moment to consider a why other than “Because he is a brat” or “He is just trying to ruin my day.” You will be surprised by what you come up with and how that changes your response/reaction.
Have you ever come upon someone who needed help that you didn’t know? Or even someone you knew but felt was somehow different? Did you stop to help? Or did you avert your eyes as you veered away?
This video shows what happened as a social experiment using two individuals: What would you do? One looked like a businessman who fell while trying to use his crutches along a busy street. The other was a homeless man who also fell while trying to use his crutches on a busy street. How did it make you feel to see the difference?
Did you know that this same type of scenario occurs in schools every day with students who are seen as lazy, unmotivated, disrespectful, etc. Having talked with over 3000 of these students in the last 30 years, I have heard their frustration of feeling like they are not being listened to. That they are discounted by teachers and sometimes parents because they are judged on appearances. They feel that no one actually tries to understand how they are struggling, how they are trying but not succeeding academically, socially, or in everything they try to do.
Next time you see a child, adolescent, or student not achieving, will you take a minute to just stop and ask how you can help. Assume that they don’t want to fail, but rather need support to succeed.
I have a colleague in the National Speakers Association who has C4-5 quadriplegia. He has an active speaking career, traveling around the country on his own. He has had to learn many strategies in order to be independent. It was not fast or easy.
He filmed himself doing the task of undressing (not to the explicit level so still rated G) to point out what allowing individuals the time and skills could allow them to achieve.
This is a message I would like all of you to consider as you work with your children or your students and feel that time has run out and you can no longer provide the time to get them to the mastery level of a task. Many of these children can already complete the task but need more time to use their cognitive skills to figure it out.
This is an important blog to read about Robin Williams. I have to admit that I did not know that he had dyslexia although I was well aware that Whoopi Goldberg had it.
It is so important for us to realize that dyslexia and other learning struggles do have an impact on children. What they don’t need to hear is that they have to work harder and then they will get it. What they need is for teachers and parents to realize that the “usual” way of teaching them might not be fitting, and to look at other methods which have evidence to back that they help. The use of multisensory, structured, language-based reading approaches have been around since the 1930’s but most schools still don’t use them, even for the struggling readers. While the most severely impaired students with dyslexia may not make as much progress they still will make more than with the right brained approach of look/memorize, write and rewrite approach. They need to have the left side of their brains activated in order to develop the phonemic and phonologic neural pathways.
I hope that you approach children differently who are struggling with learning after you read this.