And if our children are healthy and smart, we expect accomplishments. Right? We do. We know that if we provide what they need to grow and thrive, they will do just that -- grow and thrive.
I've always counted myself so very lucky that my child is healthy and smart and she has done nothing but grow, thrive, and accomplish things her whole life. Even when she has struggled, I never doubted that she would succeed with effort. She met all the 'normal' milestones, often early; she is exceptional at many things; she will go on, I believe, to do great life's work.
I am, and have always been, grateful.
I have also wondered how I would have raised her had she not been healthy. I've wondered how I would have parented her had she been born with, or acquired, a disability. I was raised with a brother who is deaf; I've seen members of family parent a child who will never walk or talk or do any of the the things most kids do. So I've wondered what it would be like to watch my daughter struggle, not knowing whether or not she would succeed.
I am ridiculously fortunate that my job allows me to work with people with disabilities. On Mondays, I get to teach a class for four adults who, in their hearts and minds, are children. It is the very best part of my week. We focus on reading and math but, because they are all at different levels, coming up with lessons that will engage all four is a challenge. It's one I love and in working to meet the challenge, I'm learning as much as I'm teaching.
Because of their disabilities, all of which are intellectual and all of which are significant, my expectations about what they can actually accomplish are low. Now, I don't mean that I don't think they are capable of learning or making improvements. They are. I know they are. And I strive to help them do so. But unlike with my daughter, I don't expect successes. I hope for them. But I don't expect them. I have adjusted my expectations so that I don't push my students to the point of frustration; so that patience (not usually a word I use in reference to myself) is the quality I try hard to keep at the front of my mind and in my actions. Always. Everything is a struggle for them and they do not always succeed. Or when they do, their successes are, by 'normal' standards, small. And that's OK. As long as they are engaged and enjoying our time together, I consider the class is a success.
This past Monday, the struggle was evident... and the success was sweet.
One of my students is a wonderful man-boy who is always cheerful and talking (even though much of what he says is simply repeating things over and over). He can read but doesn't comprehend much. He also doesn't really have the ability to think in the abstract. For example, in class on Monday, the assignment was to find pictures (in magazines) of words I'd written on flashcards (each student had 9 words, 3 beginning with one letter, 3 with another, and 3 with a third). I suggested that they look for several pictures at once, but this proved difficult for everyone, especially my non-abstract-thinker. I also suggested that if they couldn't find a picture for a word I'd written, they could find another beginning with the same letter (i.e. if someone couldn't find a picture a picture of a truck, a picture of a table would do). My abstract thinker really struggled with this. He would look for a picture of the truck for days, but to switch to the table? Impossible.
Or so I thought.
One of the pictures he was supposed to find was a monkey. When he couldn't, I gave him a picture of M&Ms, since they start with M. He pasted it to his paper as I'd instructed, but when he referred back to it, he kept calling the M&Ms 'monkeys.' His brain couldn't make the switch from what he was supposed to find to what he did find.
And it was fine.
I corrected him each time, explaining that the picture was of another M word. Then he started to look for a picture of a barn, but was unable to find one. After about 5 minutes of me making suggestions, like baby, ball, boy, bathtub, etc, he was still stuck on the barn. Again, his brain simply couldn't make the switch.
And it was fine.
Someone else needed my help, so I left him to search for the barn. Then, a few minutes later...
"Diane! Look! Bottle! It's a B-word!"
Indeed, he was holding up a picture of a bottle. A B-word. Another B-word. Not a barn. His brain made the switch. And he was so, so proud.
And it was so much more than fine.
I was so incredibly proud of him and told him so. I cheered. He beamed. He basked.
And I might have cried.
Just a little.