In Your Language

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How accomodating should we be? [educationally speaking]

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Originally, you probably clicked on this article thinking that I was talking about social graces, but hopefully by the image above you'll understand my frame of reference for "accomodations." I.D.E.A. is a law that outlines ideological ways of providing education and a classroom that will help kids with a wide range of "disabilities" to be as close to grade level as possible. Much of that education is sought through identifying disabilities, writing up an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that includes accommodations and modifications that are appropriate for each student. 

Many IEPs account for Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy during the school day. Accomodations might be like "student has no time restriction to complete test" or "test can be read aloud to student" whereas modifications would be to reduce work or change the work from being rote (writing) to pictoral (visual). Many times these legal statements in the IEP are enough to hoist children to their educational potential. Hurray for the goal.

Wait, what does this have to do with you, Meredith?

I am not an IDEA specialist or licensed teacher. But special education has been a part of my life at different junctures of my life, and since 2010. Being adopted from Korea at four and a half, I had challenges learning English. I also had trouble pronouncing English words and so I was put in Speech Therapy. If you listen to my videos you will notice that the "speech pathologist" (as if I had something "wrong" with my Korean accent to begin with) erased all evidence of my first language. 

When I moved to Colorado upon marrying a teacher, I got a job at the school he taught at in the Special Education Department as a paraprofessional. Despite the fact that I lacked licensure, I was the frontline person who help the high schoolers navigate their lessons for Mathematics and Sciences. Many of these kids were pushed on me to do the teaching and I gladly did it. 

Paraprofessionals are also supplied for special education students through IDEA. I was supposed to learn all of the IEPs but I had not input into them. That was a faulty system inofitself. I absolutely loved my job with the teenagers. They blew me away. I got to know them as people, I asked them how they were doing. In many ways, I was the only one they could talk to about their frustrations and sometimes I was the first food they had all day (I would share my snacks).

I also spent some time as a "one on one paraprofessional" with an autistic young man. He was in the band and a good student.  He was highly sensitive to sensory stimulation and had a history of streaking in the hallways. Once his medication was tweaked, he no longer had the compulsion to do so. I was in awe of his different reality. I wondered what went on in his mind.

Then when I divorced, I got a job at a martial arts school. I participated in facilitating many classes that included special needs children. I saw kids with Tourettes and Autism grow with this sort of physical, regulating therapy. One woman I got in touch with from Focus on the Family specializes in regulatory therapy for attachment challenged children who suffered much trauma. She confirmed with me that jumping had a great regulatory function that resets the brain for optimal functioning. You can find her here.

And now, I have a son who has a learning disability but much potential. I live day in and day out with challenging myself to think outside the box and how to tailor our home to the needs of my very unique children. I think back to his experience with a one-on-one para who did a dis-service to him by doing his work FOR him. He has much space to cover in his academic life and it's apparent to me and the rest of his education team that his previous accommodations are not the right fit for him.

Since we've recently had a triennial IEP meeting, it's been on my mind whether or not these accommodations are actually hurting him and other students in the long run. Children with disabilities already have a longer learning curve once they age out of the IDEA system. Is it wise to build up their lives with so many accommodations that won't translate into their future life (that is hopefully independent and self sufficient and gainfully employed)?

I'm not posing the question to say anything categorically . But it doesn't hurt to reassess and reappraise situations as time goes on. I know from my own life, I had no street smarts and all book smarts. I was at a huge disadvantage once I hit college and emerged into the work place. For a person of much promise (going to an Ivy League university), I lacked the "transitional" training that would have prepared me to be on my own. My life had been so focused on education that I neglected to learn about socializing, money managing and everything else that goes into leaving childhood behind. I had so much trouble despite the fact I was a fairly gifted child.

I guess that is fallacy of our default mind to only think in the present tense. If we involved our future in our every day thoughts and decisions, perhaps we would pave smoother roads for ourselves. To no fault of my own, I went into the real world unprepared and I paid for it immensely. I know that with God's help I will do my best to prepare my own kids for living on their own. 

How do you weigh in with the accommodation dilemma? Please leave your two cents...

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