Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What SPED has taught me.

Here's what I've learned about the all things special education in the classroom: What I know to be true is that my peers in the classroom at the elementary level (which is my experience, and I would be curious to know more about the upper levels) are overwhelmed. And to be fair, they aren't overwhelmed by inexperience or lack of knowledge, as many of my friends are intelligent, capable, competent teachers with HUGE hearts and years of experience. I would be grateful if any one of them had my own child in their class. Since the point of this blog isn't to name the laundry list of what I know they are responsible for which overwhelms them (truly that would require its own blog), I'll come back to the focus which is that on top of it all, we under equip teachers for the growing needs of a diverse population of students with special needs. More kids than ever before are either being diagnosed with various special needs and/or are developing them more than ever before - and in either case, teachers are being inundated with it. But here's where it gets's what you need to know.....these teachers are still making a difference, and here is how I know.... Evan and me. (I'm going to change the name of the boy to Evan to protect his anonymity). Evan is a boy that I had the privilege of having in my classroom. He was diagnosed with autism and was more severe than most I've ever had. (With all honesty, he was brilliantly intelligent. I likened him to Rain Man, and I mean that with warmth and sincerity. His mannerisms and intelligence, even though he was just a child, were very parallel). I am not a special education teacher, I am currently a Literacy Specialist and  I don't have any educational background in special education. However, I do have years of experience and have a pretty good handle on child development and classroom management. Evan was unlike any child I had ever had. He was known in school as the kid with the outbursts. He had a one-on-one aide and he had all of the supports the school could offer. Even still from time to time he'd tantrum and require sensory breaks. For many he was this puzzle. So when I knew he'd be joining my class I was preparing myself for an adjustment. I read through his IEP and I asked a lot of questions to the appropriate people to learn about this child. When he started with me it took some time for him to come to know me and be comfortable with me. And so at first, he repeated phrases a lot and flapped his hands. I consistently remained gentle and firm with him, and my overall approach every time was kindness and patience. As the weeks passed, he settled into our routine and we learned about each other. I discovered his love for dinosaurs and MONSTERS, superheroes and the iPad. I learned about his family, I learned that he really, really loves to read, and I learned that his vocabulary is out of this world. I could sit with him on the floor for extended periods of time and just got lost in his world. I had him in my groups for two years, and never once did he tantrum, and never once did he need a break. And then one day just before a holiday vacation, he leaned into me, did his best to make "eye contact" and said, "You're the best teacher I've ever had."  I was stunned. Emotion is uncommon in autistic children, this much I have learned, and this was an extraordinary display of affection/emotion. I promise you, I was never an expert on special education, but I have always had a philosophy about kids and it goes like this: kids are kids. No matter the package, no matter the ability - kids are just kids. I learn them, I study them, and then I accompany them. Turns out Evan taught me more than I ever could have taught him.

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