Friday, November 08, 2013

Look Mom, No Hands!

Let me start by saying that I really like my son’s teachers and all the other adults that have worked with him and really taken to him at his new school.  And no one has ever loved anyone as much as his teachers at his (and my) former school do.  And having a son as unique and special as mine is has really forced me to take a long, hard, critical look at the teacher I once was.

So having said all that, I want to ask you to imagine something and then indulge me in a little rant I need to get off my chest.  My eyes, heart, and mind have been irrevocably opened, and I feel the need to get other people to feel and know what I now feel and know.

Without meaning any disrespect to people who truly are born with physical differences or limitations, I want you to imagine for a moment that my son was born without hands.

If that were truly the case, teacher, would you really comment on my son’s cutting/coloring work as needing to be more carefully done?  Would you really require him to write out everything the long way?  Would you really grade his penmanship?  Would you really embarrass him in front of his peers for not being able to correctly click on something on a computer screen?  Would you really emphasize the things he can’t do like everyone else over the things he can do?

I am grateful every day that my son DOES have hands.  But his hands don’t do the things his brain tells them to do quite the way we expect.  And they don’t work along with what his eyes are seeing.  It’s called visual motor integration, and his is pretty deficient.  And he’s a lefty, so there’s only one type of scissors (thank you, Fiskars) that are TRULY made for him.  And schools don’t have them, generally.  So yeah, his cutting is a hot mess.  And his coloring.  And his handwriting a lot of the time.  Because using his hands HURTS more often than not.

And about that connection to what his eyes see?  Let’s talk about those eyes.  Those gorgeous, kind, smiling blue eyes.  They work just fine, according to the vision screening we had last week.  What doesn’t do so great is his brain, with what his eyes have picked up.  His short-term visual memory kind of sucks.  That’s a technical term.

This means that when he’s copying something down from the board or a textbook or even another paper, he forgets what he just saw while he’s writing it.  So he looks back.  But then he forgets where he was in the source, and when he finally figures it out, he can’t remember on the paper where he was writing.  Repeat ad nauseum.  This means that everything takes him ages.  Combine this torture with how difficult it is for him to get his hands to cooperate in the first place and, well, you get the picture.

So what I am eternally thankful for is when the teacher has him orally go over some math facts to show what he knows.  And when he can underline and circle items in sentences instead of having to write out all the words.  And when it’s okay for him to dictate to me, so I can dictate into the Dragon app, to send his story or essay to his email, so he can copy and paste it into a Google Document that he can revise, finish, and share with his teacher.

And I am grateful he’s getting quicker with keyboarding.  And that at school they use Chromebooks.  And that he gets extra time on tests and quizzes.  And a teacher can ask him to respond orally to the test questions he skipped because he seriously didn’t even see them.  And that his counselor’s door is always open for him.  And that his science teacher has the kids do tons of hands-on activities and labs to better understand the topics they’re covering.  And that they’re even flexible with when he can do the extra time he gets because it’s important for him to spend some recess time with the new friends he has made.  

I am especially grateful that my son was made exactly how he is.  All the body parts are there, and they work, just not maybe the way he, or we, or anyone else, expected them to.  These things for now are just challenges to overcome.  They’re not his fault.  And when he asked me, when I told him this, whose fault it was, I told him what I’m telling you now.  It’s nobody’s fault.  It just IS.

It is how things are.  And there will come a day when his life’s work and passion don’t require good penmanship or for him to have to write long hand at all.  And there won’t be one right answer he has to guess at.  And when he needs to do math, he’ll just use a calculator.  There will come a day when he figures out what he wants to do with his life, and doing that will require him to be the funny, sweet, compassionate, imaginative guy he is.

Until then, I’ll just keep being his Mom and being in his corner.  And teaching him how to advocate for himself so he can do it one day without my help.  Until then, his hands hold mine just fine.  His arms are great for hugging.  His eyes don’t seem to forget to look to mine for reassurance when the world asks him to do the things that don’t come easy.


Jennifer Kloczko said...

Hi Diane!
What an amazing post! I didn't know you had a blog! So many of your thoughts need to be said over and over again - every child is unique and special and learns in their own way. How lucky you are to have teachers that understand that kids can demonstrate what they know in more than one way. I am so happy that I met you and your awesome guy! Hugs :)
Jennifer K

Diane E. Main, GCT NorCal 2006 said...

I am going to publicize this post through Twitter and Facebook with a call for help from my amazing PLN.

We've discovered that our boy REALLY needs to talk out loud through math problem solving. Like, if it's visual and written only (see the full blog post for why these are weak for him), he will not only fail, but fail miserably.

So what I need, amazing PLN, are some strategies, specifically for his testing in math. Having a paper-and-pencil test put in front of him in a quiet room with the rest of his classmates isn't ever going to get out of him what he knows or can do. We're looking into a tutor for him, and I've found someone (from my PLN!) who is local and specialized in K-6 math intervention, so that should help with the bigger picture.

But what we need major guidance with, right now, is how he can test in math. HELP!

Kathleen Diver said...

Diane- this post had me in tears. We have a grand daughter with some of the same issues and some different ones (she has spastic CP).

I would love to offer this post to her TK teacher who points out in the IEP that she struggles with scissors and pencils and is clumsy and can't run, skip, dance and jump like every other kindergartener in her class. She is in orthopedic braces during all her waking hours. She, too is a lefty and seems to have visual and auditory processing issues- but it may be too early to tell for sure. She is only 5 years old.

Neither of my own kids were different learners requiring IEP action, but I learned about 14 years ago that I expected way too much of all of my jr hi students. My daughter was in my 7th grade life science class as a learner. She is an AWESOME student and I had them doing some unnecessary, repetitive things in the name of rigor. Sometimes at home she would be working for hours on my class alone. It was a huge eyeopening experience for me as a teacher.

I learned that I can have high expectations for learning content and skills without killing the students sense of wonder and excitement for science. I found out that hours of time doing homework does not equate to learning.

I love my granddaughter and I want the best for her without the pressure of feeling less than others or lower than her classmates in a given skill. She never attended pre-school like so many of the others in her class. Right now she is making lots of progress- but her teacher seems dissatisfied (at least that is the impression I get when I see her IEP and the work that is being sent home for her to complete).

Bradley Stoll said...

Is Cameron's math teacher open to alternative assessments, or is (s)he going to require him to take the test in class with the other students? If alternative assessment is on the table, I would begin there. I find that talking (out loud) to myself through a challenging problem is very helpful.
Would (video) recorded "lectures" help?

Lisa DeLapo said...

Wow. When my son was in 2nd grade, he was diagnosed with a reading learning disability. In 7th grade, we found out he was on the autistic spectrum and had Asperger Syndrome. We found that when he reads with his eyes, he doesn't understand it at all. We used a phone-type tool (basically a hollow pipe that went from ear to mouth) so he could whisper as he reads. He would then hear what he was reading, and only then could he process it. He gets this accommodation, even in high school, even for standardized tests, as well as extra time. He has a 4.57 GPA, something we never would have dreamed of, but it's because he had the kindness of counselors and teachers helping him along to figure out how he best learns.

Jessica Pack said...

Wow, Diane. Saw your tweet, clicked on the link, and I'm so glad that I did! What a wonderful post; I admire the heart here, and the way you shared what learning challenges your son faces. Thank you for the food for thought in terms of the importance of meeting kids where they're at and how life altering the instructional accommodations we make can be.

Mark Hall said...

I guess I don't understand the problem. If the child needs to be able to read the problem out loud and talk himself through the problem to help process the question, then the child needs to be given the opportunity to do just that. How can anyone argue against that? How can someone deny him that opportunity?

Diane E. Main, GCT NorCal 2006 said...

Hi Mark!

It's not that he's being denied the chance to do it that way, it's more that all of this is new to us, and we are still trying to figure out the logistics of such requirements. We have to make sure the resources are in place. We're setting up a meeting for later this week with his counselor and math teacher so we can examine these very questions.

Derrall said...

I always feel like there's a conflict of interest when districts are looking at services or accommodations that a child might need.

Just thinking about assessment, I'm sure there are several tools to assist Cameron in showing understanding for the math concepts. Off the top of my head can someone use something like Voicethread. Have each problem be one slide and he can comment on each one and use the annotation tools to draw on top. Someone could then respond verbally as a comment to each slide as well if needed.