Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lost Kids!?!

The goal I have for all my students is that they are “lost” in a group of their peers.  No, don’t panic!  I don’t actually want to lose them.  What I am talking about is the moment that their social skills, behaviors, and actions are so age appropriate that you no longer see:

child… child… student with a disability… child

or worse yet:

child…child…    ….   ….   … student with a disability and para

I am referring to the moment that the student is a peer, a friend, a playmate.  It is the greatest moment for me as a special education teacher.  But it has also caused moments of panic as the paraprofessional, teacher, or parent suddenly couldn’t find the student.  For a brief moment, the fear that they are lost over takes our heart.  The next minute, we realize that our every hope for that child is met, at least for the moment. 

This past weekend was an example of that.  Some of my students went to a Special Olympics basketball tournament.  I was home sick in bed and missed it but a parent kept me in the loop through texting and these photos.  It was then that I saw that “lost” moment.  All the kids are playing well.  You can’t tell who has the disability and who is the peer partner.   

You only see kids, playing basketball, and winning second place.  (Okay, that was just bragging but after all, they are my kids, I should get to brag.)

Yes, last weekend, my kids were “lost” and it was a great victory!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is that?

Periodically I am asked by a general education teacher to talk to their class about disabilities or a specific disability.  I always enjoy these opportunities as I get to hear what the students are wondering and the ways that they develop an understanding and compassion.  Last Friday was one of those days.

I have a young man in a primary grade with Down Syndrome.    He is a charismatic, funny, adorable young man who is also popular.  As he grows older, his peers wonder why.  Why does he talk different?  Why is he so short?   Will he grow?  Why doesn't he read and write well when he works so hard?

The teacher and I talked about a variety of messages we wanted to teach to the students but we both agreed that they needed to learn about what Down Syndrome is and what it isn't.  The teacher set the stage by talking to the class about how to be a friend even when you are not alike.  Then, I met with the class the following day to explain Down Syndrome.  I am always nervous.  Will I make it sound scary or confusing?  Will the students have more questions and concerns when I leave than when I came?  What questions will the ask that I don't know how to answer in a way that a 7 or 8 year old can understand?

I decided that I would talk about chromosomes.  First I talked about how there are little, teeny, tiny parts of the body that decided if you will be a boy or girl?  Blonde, brunette, or red-head?  Tall or short? I told them they are called chromosomes but the most special thing about them is that they are all twins.  Then I drew little sticks that were "holding hands" with their twin.  That set the stage to tell them about what makes people who have Down Syndrome so amazing.  They have a set of triplets at the 21st row.  The students thought this was amazing and found it to be a great explanation.  We then talked about the messages those triplets gave about being a little smaller, having shorter fingers, a flatter nose, and a larger tongue.

The class and teacher then participated in an experiment to find to what it was like to have Down Syndrome with a larger tongue.  I found this idea at another great bloggers site http://elliesgift.blogspot.com.  You simply get the large marshmallows and cut them in half.  The students, teachers, or anyone else who wishes to participate pushes the marshmallow onto the roof of their mouth and then tries to talk.  Instantly the participant has a Down Syndrome accent.  It is a simple but dramatic experiment and helps others to understand the struggle that individuals with Down Syndrome have to even talk to a friend or family member.

We talked as a group about how frustrating it was to try to talk.  Then I talked about how I don't know if I would keep trying if it was that frustrating but that the young man with Down Syndrome was far braver than I am.  The class agreed that it takes courage to struggle but still try (see Home of the Brave to read more on this).   I watched as each student and adult in the room looked again at those around them with an appreciation for who they were, rather than who they weren't.  A great day teaching.  A great day learning.