We’re pleased to share this fabulous guest piece about special education from teacher & mom Kimberly Maher.
I am the mother of a child with autism and intellectual disability. He is now an adult, but back when he was young, the autism diagnoses were not available. The term most likely used was ‘mental retardation,’ and all children with this label were escorted to special education. As a student in this category during this period, there were very little options given to a parent in regards to the academic treatment of their children. At the end of four years in the special education system my son was termed un-teachable, and determined to be funneled into what they referred to as a seclusion classroom. It was then that I pulled him out and began homeschooling him.
Special Education: What’s so Special About It?
Often times there is a common link with autism as it couples with other disabilities. For my son, it was an intellectual disability. During the academic years of my son I developed a way of teaching him; necessity being the key factor. Often I heard that the key to innovation is a necessity, and for those of us who are parents of special education children, we hold the keys.
By taking a good hard look at special education I realized that there are great advantages to this individualized specialty. What I did not find was that they were not able to pinpoint how my son’s brain took in information and was able to stimulate and transfer it to the pulse of becoming rooted into the memory. Their formula was to assess the child and bring in specialties to address a deficit in speech, or, motor skills, and the most drastic are slim down the teacher-student ratio.
However, not all brains work the same, not all brains work at full capacity. For example, my son, there is a part of his brain that is compromised and does not take in information the way others do. Special education could not do anything to accommodate or address this, as a matter of fact, they never even identified it. At their very best they could only tell me he was unteachable, and he was in their manner of delivery in the curriculum.
Taking in the philosophy of former Doctors such as Dr. Montessori, and Dr. Gardner’s who both use the whole body for learning. They also subscribe to the effect that our bodies will tell us how our brain will take in information and transfer it to the kinesthetic learning. Why do we take a child who we label as hyperactive and expect them to sit straight in a chair for one hour or even 30 minutes? Even if we expect that exercise of the body to be fulfilled, we then oppress his mind to focus on a solitary sheet of paper in a book, a non-moving object and exasperate his brain to learn.
What if the child’s curriculum was filled with movement, and color, and noise? Why are we drugging the child, instead of changing up the way we deliver the curriculum? It would seem to me that we are throwing out the baby with the bath water. I have taken the mode in which I assess a child in learning and deliver the curriculum to meet their stimuli.
As the new school year is about to begin, I hope that as parents and educators we begin to look differently at how the curriculum is delivered to our children. This one size fits all is good for the majority of children, but there is an influx of students who it does not work for. Every day these children are set up to fail even if they are under the awning of special education because their real need has not been addressed.
Kimberly Maher is a wife of 36 years, mother of 12 children Bachelors in Educational Science minor in Special Education, working on Master in Education.