Mommy School: Learning with kids About Persons With Disabilities

This week in “Mommy School,” Child of Mine (COM) and I are learning about Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), as well as preparing for Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, in a week – January 18, 2016. COM is already involved with PWDs, reading to “Therapy Dogs” at our library Paws n’ Pages program.

I have explained to him the meaning of “therapy,” and that therapy dogs help people who cannot help themselves —such as, guide dogs that help their owners cross the road, comfort dogs for companionship, emergency rescue dogs helping owners out of fires, running errands around the house, or notifying 911 in case of life-threatening emergencies.

COM and I picked up a book from the library entitled, Sometimes Mommy Gets Mad, by Learning About Persons with disabilities - Jan 11 16Bebe Moore Campbell  (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator), which explores the subject of “Bipolar Disorder” to young readers. It is a story about Annie’s mom, who is bright as the sunshine, but sometimes does not smile and gets very angry. Luckily for Annie, she has an understanding and caring grandma, her fortress to lean on, when mommy is having her “bad days”. And Mr. Neighbor, who understands that Annie’s mom does not mean bad, when she snaps at him, just for saying hello to her. Most importantly, Annie knows that, even when mommy seems angry on the outside, she loves her very much on the inside.

I explained to COM the meaning of “Bipolar disorder,” emphasizing the parallels between Annie’s mom, and when I am angry and displeased with him. Luckily, for me, COM reminded me that, I am not like Annie’s mom because I get mad at him for not making “good choices”—when he does not stay focused on his homework, or when he plays in the bathroom, instead of doing his routine — brush, floss and rinse.

I thought it would be helpful to supplement our book reading by introducing him to a real PWD who overcame challenges to excel. I thought it would help him understand that PWDs are not always sick and underachieved. I did not want him to feel sorry for them, but make him realize that he is privileged and has the abilities to excel, if PWDs can become winners.

I immediately thought of Oscar Pistorius, a South African spring runner and Olympic medalists, nicknamed “Blade Runner,” who overcame double amputation to compete in field and track with able-bodied persons. But after, murdering Reeva Steenkamp (no, I do not believe his “self-defense” crap), I did not want to expose COM to a tainted personality; he is not a role model, anymore!

Thankfully, there is the WWW, and there is YouTube, with plenty of videos about athletes with disabilities breaking records, and disabled persons doing extraordinary amazing stuff. We watched three videos:

1) Marcel Hug, winner of the 2015 Boston Marathon Wheelchair from Switzerland. COM got to see a marathon competitor in a wheelchair, using his hands, instead of his legs to race and climb the hill around Newton on the Boston Marathon route.

2) A mom and her son born without arms, but not deterred from enjoying life to the fullest, as active persons —swimming, cooking, playing sports, writing, dressing up themselves and getting on with their daily lives with smiles. I told COM that he had no excuse for not doing and achieving greatness, if a child without limbs could do everything.

3) Video about a double amputee mom, who found happiness after an attempted suicide. She tried to take her life by laying under a train, losing both her limbs. After becoming a mother, she said she found new meaning in life, and realized that life was not all about her. Having a child helped her find happiness and a purpose to live. And her latter boyfriend, made her life easier, and supported her in raising her son.

I explained to COM the meaning of “Depression,” when some people feel so sad and incapable of finding happiness within themselves. Some people take their own lives/kill themselves or the lives of others. COM got to see artificial legs, and the mom putting them on and off.

Next on our agenda is a practical experience of “the life of PWDs”. We will practice using crutches and a wheelchair, play a game, where he tries to eat with his hands tied up, and write a story while blindfolded.

Have you have you introduced your little ones to the subject of Persons With Disabilities? Share your stories and strategies.

Special Ed Teachers Have Special Needs Too!

How does a teacher manage a student with special needs?
How does a teacher stabilize student with emotional and behavioral needs?
How does a teacher nurture a centered-focus for a student with attention difficulties?
How does a teacher manage a classroom of student with behavior, reading, physical, attention and life challenges?

I bet you will say all that is covered in the Teacher Training curriculum for Special Education. After all, teacher training seeks to produce a whole person, who can manage a classroom environment with all its multifaceted complicatedness. There are smart and dull students, calm and restless, slow and fast, participatory and inactive, distracted and attentive, young and not so young. Not to forget that twenty-first century classrooms are multinational, multiabilties, multi-sexual, multi-origin and multi-races, multi-everything. Everything goes, everything is expected, and everything is planned for.

Moreover, today more than ever before, the topic of Special Needs Education for Students with Disabilities has been mainstreamed into the classroom environment. Gone are the days when children who acted and looked “different” were hospitalized or restrained in mental asylums, deemed dangerous on a ‘regular’ school campus. While it is still true that in many parts of the world, schooling opportunities for students with special needs, separately or as part of the ‘regular’ school environment barely exist.

Here in the United States, special academies are set up to cater for students with special needs, staffed with  teachers trained in Special Ed. Even the seemingly most challenging behavioral students now have a place in the main school education system. If not at designated academy, special classrooms exist within the regular school complex for the education of students with autistic needs, life skills, emotional and behavioral needs, post-hospitalization, as well as early intervention. The focus is not always on academic excellence, in programs such as post-hospitalization, but could range for therapy to behavioral transformation and emotional stabilization. As a parent, I applaud and cherish the availability of such opportunities for students who would otherwise be excluded from the pipeline of ‘a ‘regular’ schooling system. High accolades for those selfless souls called Special Ed teachers and their associates, who have agreed to partake on the insurmountable task of ‘baby-sitting’ big kids.

Though, one wonders who takes cares of the special needs of Teachers for Special Needs students? Who provides personal support to Special Education Teachers? Does the curriculum include a “how-to” training on protecting oneself as a teacher for special needs students, if attacked [repeatedly] by own special needs students? My experience in a couple of elementary, intermediate and high school special needs classrooms exposes the complexities, challenges and dangerous everyday work environment a teacher for special needs students.

I am not trained in “Special Education”, and only recently began experiencing “teaching in an American K-12 environment”. My experience is in teaching at US colleges and universities. As I have said before, never had I ever imagined willingly stepping into a classroom environment for young learners. All this changed since I had my own “young learner”, and the rest is history. I decided to experience the classroom environment to gain practical experience, exposure and understanding of what goes on in the children’s classroom, how they learn, how they interact with the learning tools, with their teachers and peers and respond to teaching and learning aides exposed to them. Particularly because I did not attend elementary education in the United States, it made sense to me to learn how my son is learning in order to better assist him with his school projects and home assignments. Beside, I am from a family or teachers, and a devoted teacher, myself!

My experience thus far, has got me scared, and in some incidences traumatized for the teachers in K-12 classrooms, especially those dealing with special needs students. I have wondered several times, at what point do students decide it is ok to beat up, scratch, curse, swear, talk back violently at their teachers! Engaging in behaviors not identified with the everyday home environment, or so I think? How can children throw tantrums that are so violent and compromise the safety of their fellow classmates, most especially for the teachers? How do these students becomes so selfish not to imagine that their erratic, aggressive and unsocial attitudes, characters and behaviors are not acceptable in public and toward any adult?

Of course, I have also taught myself OR learned, not to take what I see or experience from such students personal. I have been disrespected by 8-15 year-old students, while working one-on-one with them on their classroom assignment and during private coaching homework. Some have rudely told me off [and I obeyed] to get out of their face. “Why are you standing here looking over me? Go find someone else to help,” a 15 year old academy student ordered me. I have been scratched, beat and cursed by young learners for the crime of insisting on getting them to sit down, focus on their classwork, pick up after themselves or undertake their assignments.

While we as parents can [sometimes] raise our voices toward our children and spank them, this experience has vividly taught me, that is not a luxury available to a Special Ed/Needs Teacher. S/he has to suck up to being beat, kicked, screamed at and violated by young learners, utilizing only officially sanctioned soft interventions to calm the erratic students, however ineffective. Or as I have learned from Special Ed teachers, wear gloves, leather jackets or long sleeved shirts to protect yourself from bodily scratches from your students, and face mask to keep yourself safe of germs when your students deliberately cough in your face.

It is an absolutely traumatizing experience, feeling trapped amidst a group of 10 eight to 15 year-old students, where the ‘wise’ decision a teacher can make is, walk around on eggshells with such trepidation that s/he could get beat up anytime by her/his students, who are protected by claims of ‘partial’ or ‘full-insanity’. Sadly, as parents, we are not doing much to support the teachers efforts of educating and nurturing their children into better students. Instead, we pile all our failures at parenting our children onto the teachers, sending them to school when we have failed to control them, then subsequently accuse teachers of not doing a great job educating and catering to the special needs of their children! We blame all bad habits that our children develop on the school environment and teachers’ negligence, even when our home environment is very explosive with negative influences on our children.

Perhaps planners, programmers, managers and administrators of education programs for special needs students need to prioritize the special needs of teachers as equally important as those of the students they are enjoined to teach. Special needs teachers need as much emotional, psychological, physical, classroom and social support to ensure they stay excel in their classroom. It is mind boggling to expect two teachers, moreover female, to manage a classroom of  eight autistic/post-hospitalization/emotional behavioral students, some emotionally charged and hyper-active behavior,  running out of the classrooms and screaming in the hallways! Or expect a teacher to remain aloof to beatings, scratchings everyday, as a reaction from a student getting mad  because s/he did not get it his way!

Special Ed teachers, especially ones dealing with emotional/behavioral needs students should be provided reinforcement in terms of security or classroom environments or permission to apply techniques to protect their lives, as well as the lives of other students in the classrooms when dealing with those students who turn violent. Moreover, special ed teachers should be provided with the human resource proportional to the needs of their classrooms to help.