…I will be their voice…

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 28 2012

4 year olds with disabilities and why they should be held to high expectations…

So we have had a friend with disabilities in our classroom since mid-November. We will call him S. S is a sweet, sweet boy, who honestly has claimed my heart and ran with it…but besides that, he is a huge part of Room 32. My students love him, they care for him, and they do their best to help as much as possible…they don’t see what adults see when they look at S…they see a friend.

For the last 3 months, my co-teacher and I were pretty lost on how to help S. He came to us with ZERO self-help skills, completely non-verbal, and after being tested is intellectually an infant. A very large, 4-year old baby. And that is pretty much how we viewed him for about 2 months.

We started to notice some trends with S. First off, he loves school. He enjoys being around the kids, he is happy, and he comes every day with a smile on his face. Secondly, he picked up on routines really quickly. He knows that after group time it is time to go to the gym so he immediately lines up when he notices movement on the carpet (and the other students don’t mind that he always gets to be the line leader, it’s pretty cute!) He likes a certain spot at a certain table and he can tell us he is ready for lunch by sitting there and not moving until lunch arrives. He knows that after he finishes eating he has to go sit in front of the bathroom door to show us he needs to potty before its time to nap. It really was amazing to see how quickly he picked up on routines. Thirdly, he knows the difference between right and wrong. Considering he didn’t even recognize his name when he first came to us, he also now has learned the word “NO.” More specifically the phrase, “Shane, NO!” We laugh at ourselves because it can seem like we are harsh but we really only say it because he is in danger (climbing, running, pulling on a cabinet). The funny thing about it is, that he knows what he is doing is wrong. He has this little coy smile and then runs off and sits down because he knows that sitting is what he really should be doing.

I say all of this because even though we noticed all of these things, we were still not holding him to high expectations. We weren’t making him sit at the carpet when the rest of the friends were on the carpet. We weren’t making him take a nap if he didn’t want to. We weren’t making him brush his teeth every time because it was more work for us then it was for him. We weren’t even making him sit at the table if he didn’t want to.

We finally came to a moment about 2 weeks ago where we realized if we didn’t start holding him to the same high expectations that we held our other students too, he was going to walk all over us…mind you we are keeping him next year so we would only be doing ourselves an injustice as well. SO we started making him sit at the carpet, making him sit at the table, making him take a nap, making him pull his own pants down and up in the bathroom, put his toys away, BLOW HIS OWN NOSE (oh and throw the tissue in the trash)…all of these things seem simple but it was a rough couple of days, he is precious, but when he is upset, it is pretty pitiful and sad…but we didn’t give in…and now we can say, S can do all the things are kids can do.

Yes, he can’t count, he doesn’t know his letter names or letter sounds, he has no idea why we hand him a marker at play-planning, he doesn’t understand what centers are, or why we sit at the carpet for so long in the morning. BUT, he does know that he can sit with his friends, that he can put the pointer to the calendar, that he can scoop his own food out of the bowl at lunch, that he can pump his own soap and turn the water on, that he knows what to do with the toothbrush now, that he knows what direction a book goes and how to flip the pages, and that he has a classroom of 2 teachers and 19 students who honestly love him and can’t wait to see what he learns how to do next.

Everyday is a challenge, but teaching wouldn’t be as fun if it wasn’t a challenge.

3 Responses

  1. Leah

    This is just awesome that you have achieved that much with a child at that level….it seems like what you are teaching him is more in the way of occupational therapy, but those are probably HUGE milestones for him. I have some experiences with children at that level who are much older, and it grows harder to teach them as they grow up and get bigger!

    Is he receiving any other additional services through the school or community that would assist with speech therapy and occupational therapy? Are the parents or relative caregivers involved in any way with these potential services that would hugely benefit the child? Not to discount what you are doing in the classroom, but I fear that a child functioning at that level will need more intensive services to grow developmentally and to develop receptive and expressive communication skills. Just food for thought… :-)

    • adhelmick

      He is on an IEP (just recently). He doesn’t qualify for speech services because english isn’t his home language (frustrating, I know!) but he does get pulled out for 30 minutes a week (not enough, I know) by the special education teacher in which she has him do art projects that I am unclear of what the purpose of the activity is…SO in short, basically it is up to us to make the difference!

      Also, the parents are Hmong and speak little english, all they really want is for S to speak. Although, when we have given guidance (losing the baby blanket, sitting on the toilet by himself, drinking from a cup) they have agreed to try at home as well.

  2. Sarah

    I can’t believe he doesn’t qualify for speech! What an utter disservice to the family and S! If he is expected to function at school using English as his primary mode of communication, he is eventually going to need intervention of some sort. I wonder if it has anything to do with the parents not being able to communicate during an IEP meeting? I sure hope they had a Hmong translator. Not to discount what you are doing at all, it sounds like you’re doing a great job. It just breaks my heart that kids like this, who would obviously benefit SO MUCH from early intervention, are left out to dry.

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