I have a secret.
I believe my child can learn anything. Anything.
Know what else?
I believe yours can too.
I don’t think it will be easy–please don’t misunderstand–but possible? Absolutely.
Last week I was talking with another special needs mom about her son and his adventures thus far in public education. She spoke frankly with me in saying that while school will have benefits for Fletcher, an education might not be one of them. His school just isn’t ready for the Fletchers of the world. She wondered aloud, “where were the kids in wheelchairs before now? At home?”
I posed this same question to my son’s Occupational Therapist and you know what she said?
“That or an institution.”
Because I can’t let a question go, I had the same conversation with Charlie’s teacher two days later. She basically confirmed what the therapist said–that the phenomenon of sending kids with multiple disabilities to school is still pretty new. I can’t say I’m surprised, but at the same time I am. As I’ve mentioned before, I worked in four different schools over the course of five years and I can remember exactly ONE kid in a wheelchair. I’ve chatted with some other parents of disabled children and got a similar picture. One mother said that her child is the first the school’s ever had that’s in a wheelchair. Another mother said that she’d prefer to send her child to regular school, but that the teachers there just weren’t equipped to handle her child’s disabilities, so she sends her child to a school specifically for the disabled.
So where does this leave me and Charlie? Or the other parents of disabled children out there?
I think it’s important that to realize that many of us will be ground-breakers. Not all of us–some of us will be blessed to have resourceful, knowledgeable schools and staff that will rise to the occasion and accept our children with open arms.
Many of us, though, will be the first ones we know to attempt this. Charlie’s teacher also told me, “I think the burden of Charlie’s education will fall on you.”
I know she’s right.
I could kick and scream and demand all sorts of things for Charlie, but what I can’t demand is that they see his potential. I can’t make them see the bright little boy inside the body that doesn’t always behave. There’s only so much that I can make them do. The rest is up to me. I’ve been entrusted with a unique soul and that’s a mighty big responsibility.
Even from a practical standpoint, I know that many of the people in public schools just aren’t educated enough. The field of neurology and what we know about the brain has changed tremendously in just the past ten years. It can take a long time for science to become practice in the classroom. How many of Charlie’s teachers will be up-to-date on neuroplasticity? How many will know that the brain can re-assign functions or that certain activities can actually create brain growth? How many of them will be stuck in the old way of thinking that says that you’re born with your intelligence?
Honestly, I feel like I was made for this challenge.
I spent five years teaching learning disabled kids with little or no training. I learned on the fly, figuring things out as I went along. I had to argue with other teachers and I got called a pain in the rear more than once. I learned to FIGHT for what was right and I learned how to sweet talk my way into much more than that. I learned how to focus on my goal and spent a lot of time eliminating the distractions.
I’ve never had a student like Charlie, but I’m ready to try.
I’ll wrap this incredibly long post up with a story.
Charlie’s teacher began her career working in an institution in the late seventies. There was a man there known only as Flipper because extreme spasticity had bent his arms permanently inward. Flipper had been in the institution since before his third birthday and was now over the age of eighteen. Everybody said, “oh that Flipper is so sweet, but so retarded.” One day a nurse took a liking to Flipper and started spending a little extra time with him. Before long, she’d taught him to read. She fashioned a rudimentary communication system and it turns out that Flipper had been paying attention all along–he just didn’t have a way of letting anyone know. Teacher left the institution, but later she heard that Flipper had moved out and was living in a group home.
That’s a pretty big payoff for a little extra time on the part of a nurse.