Walking in their shoes

different yet beautiful

different yet beautiful

Have you ever broken an arm or leg?  Have you considered that this is what a person with a disability feels like every day?

Two weeks ago, while trying to put sand on my front steps, the ice decided to fight back and grabbed me by my boots, throwing me face first down the steps.  Can you see that battle in your minds?  It was not pretty.

Maybe it’s all my padding, but despite all the bruising on my left palm (thumb side), I didn’t break any bones in my hand or the shaft of the radial bone, which would have been called a Colle’s fracture.  I actually thought I had gotten off free.  That is until I was at Target 15 minutes later and realized that my left elbow was getting more and more swollen and sore to move.

Fast forward to three hours later, where I am leaving the ER with an ace wrap and sling with a radial head fracture of my left elbow. I avoided the fiberglass splint since I was heading out on an airplane in two days, but was concerned that I would end up with a cast when I got back and saw the orthopedist.  Driving home with my left arm in a sling and my elbow immobilized was definitely an experience – and not one I would wish on others.

I survived the out-of-town trip and didn’t end up with a cast, thank heavens.  But I have definitely gained even more respect for individuals with disorders and disabilities.  I am very left hand/leg dominant.  God only provided me with a right arm/hand to balance out my body. Trying to limit the use of my left hand and arm has been extremely hard – and messy!  I have known for decades to not try to pour or carry liquids with my right hand.  Trying now to train it has not been pretty.  Many paper towel sheets have lost their lives cleaning up my messes.  Handwriting while trying not to turn my arm up (like asking for money) has led to a very unusual pen grip.  Even typing is more awkward – I never knew how many parts of my left forearm were used in typing and writing.  Oh, did I tell you I also had a bleed into the tendon on my forearm  which created a great deal of swelling and pain with movement?

Now imagine that I had to do this for the rest of my life?  I am already very irritable at my limitations and somewhat jealous of the more able-bodied.  But I know that I will get better over time (I can ditch the sling in 2-3 weeks).  Individuals who have a neurologic reason for their incoordination need intense therapy to try to develop more coordination.  But most people don’t recognize it as a neurologic/developmental issue.  They think the child is being lazy, manipulative, or not smart.  No wonder they blow up at times!

So the next time you see someone being uncoordinated or having poor handwriting, find a reason to compliment them, to help them, and just appreciate that you were lucky enough to have this skill.

Understanding the Acting Out Student in the Classroom

The hardest thing for a teacher to deal with in the classroom is a student acting out.  She has 20+ other students to teach and disruptions don’t allow for learning.  Unfortunately, many if not most teachers were not given training on effective classroom management.  Those who did were introduced to assertive discipline. This relies on letting the student know immediately when he has violated a rule.  The teacher was taught less about setting up positive supports for behavior.

Teacher

Two areas of great importance, however, are rarely taught to teachers.  These areas would provide teachers with the tools needed to assist all students in managing their own behavior while increasing their learning.

The first area deals with child development, most importantly in terms of temperament. Temperament is the hows of behavior.  We are born with nine traits of temperament, such as activity level, basic mood, and intensity of response. These traits interact with any developmental, learning, and mental health issues we have, and our environment to help mold our personalities.  The more that a teacher understands how to respond to a student through his/her temperament profile, the more successful the child will be in managing his behavior in the classroom.

Looking at the first trait mentioned, activity level, some students need to use energy to be comfortable in their environment. If a teacher understands that her student needs to expend energy in order to be engaged, she can have him doing things during the lesson. He also requires recess in order to use up his energy. Taking away his recess due to misbehaviors will only make matters worse.  He can’t keep his energy level down and also concentrate on the lesson.

The second trait, basic mood, refers to his first impression to whatever is suggested, presented, etc. A student, who is more negative in basic mood, will start out noting the problems with what was presented.  It may be stating that he can’t do it, that it is dumb, or some similar response. The teacher will never win by trying to convince him otherwise or telling him that he is wrong. She has to connect with his feelings. She can then problem solve with him on how to get it done despite how unappealing it appears, or how hard it seems to be.

Intensity of response is a hard one for most teachers to tolerate, when it’s the high intensity level. The student will always be at 100% of whatever emotion he is experiencing.  The school counselor or social worker can help the student learn about degrees of expression and practice them based on a hierarchy of situations. The teacher than can positively reinforce variations in level of intensity during the class day.

The other area where regular education teachers are taught little if anything at all deals with recognizing and providing interventions for learning struggles.  One child in seven has one or more issue in learning that is developmental in nature. This may be problems with vocabulary or language knowledge. It may be in visual or auditory processing, which can affect reading, learning to write letters, spelling, and connecting the sounds with the letters of the alphabet.  When a child is acting out, this has to be looked at.  Academic supports are needed to close the gap before it becomes too much for the child to handle.  If this same child is also having the temperament trait problems mentioned above, it is even more important, so that peace can return to the classroom.

Colleges and school districts need to provide more training and support to teachers in these areas.  By doing so, they will also be helping many more of the struggling students. In the end, everyone will win.