Special Ed. & all the things I never learned

As much as I loved the school library in elementary school I dreaded one part of it, the little room that was off to the side of the library, the so-called “Learning Center.” I never understood what it was for because in my mind the school was already a learning center, one that was always far more fun and interesting than this other specially labeled “Learning Center.”

In elementary school I had physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy – and for reasons that I still don’t understand I was also taken out of the classroom for ‘testing.’ I would have to do mundane things like read sentences aloud while they recorded me, or do subtraction problems, and the thing that I hated most: tell time in different ways “how else can you say 6:45?” “umm…it’s almost time to watch The Simpsons?” “Sandy, do you remember last week when we split the clock into four equal parts?” In my head I was usually thinking do I care? I want to go back to the classroom and be with my friends.

“How did I show you how to hold the pencil last week? Where is your tripod grip?” Why does it matter how I’m holding the pencil? Don’t you think the story I am writing about the boy floating off with the balloons his parents got him at the circus is awesome?! Needless to say, I never understood what the point of my being in “The Learning Center” was. I’m not sure if it was the one-on-one that bored me, or the fact that there were never any of my other friends around or maybe it was that entire environment: the quiet mumbling of the radio that was always on, the whir of the fan, and the always soft borderline patronizing voices they spoke to me in:
“Sandy, can you put the pegs in this board? I want you to fill this entire board with pegs.” Is the next activity going to be let’s take a nap? Because that seems like a good segue way into naptime. Seriously! I did not plan on growing up to work on a factory line of board-filling. Wasn’t it clear that I wanted to grow up to be an author? Did they know how well I could play Mario on my brother’s Nintendo when he wasn’t around? I think if I was evaluated under THOSE circumstances I would have long ago not needed to be removed from my classroom for 30min every week to… put washers on the stand. It only took them until I was in the 5th grade, when I got my first power wheelchair, to realize that Sandy definitely did not need help with hand-eye motor coordination skills.

Why was I taken out of the class to “play some games”? These games were never fun. There was never a point value or score board involved. And it seemed like I was the only one doing the “playing” (work) while the adult just sat there and stared, or told me directions. There were several times when I would purposely do something random just to see the teacher’s reaction. I remember once there was a ring stand and I was told to put washers onto the ring stand in equal amounts. So instead of counting them out and placing them one by one (which I was instructed to do), I stacked all the washers and then dropped 10 of them at a time on each. It was my attempt to complete the “game” as fast as possible so I could go back to the classroom; when I was finished I looked at the teacher with a point-blank stare: yeah, that’s right. Now what are you going to tell me to do? I don’t remember needing to play that “game” ever again.

Perhaps it was because I had spent so much time in casts or was immobilized as a young child that they believed I missed out on a lot of physical development milestones. I crawled late, I stood about 4 years too late, and I walked about 5-6 years later than the ‘normal’ child as well. I didn’t learn to pull myself up to a stand until I had already read all the books in our 2nd grade classroom library. I spent a lot of time on my back and this was believed to have caused numerous ear infections and a flatter head, but did this mean I would need to spend 30 min a week as an 8 year old putting rings on a stand?! I don’t know, clearly I’m not a special education specialist, but what I do know is that I always felt so DUMB and belittled during these sessions. I didn’t know until I was in “The Learning Center” each week that it WAS possible to feel smaller and shorter than I already was. 

Special Education:
  • I'm sure many things have changed since I was in elementary school, kids probably use more cool gadgets than the stone-age days of "put washers on stands." Whatever it is just make sure it's FUN. No not "fun" in the learning kind of way I mean, FUN
  • You might think that kids who are disabled can't tell when adults are frustrated by their challenges. We can! I always could and I have resented teachers and aides for this in the past. However it is kids react to the way you respond to them is exactly that, a REACTION. It's not something that we can necessarily help or are doing on purpose!
  • At a certain age I think that kids should know why they are doing certain tasks that their friends do not have to. I think that letting kids into their own educational direction is important and allows them to feel in control and a little less belittled
  • Invite their friends along to OT or PT sessions! ..Or whenever time out of the 'mainstream' classroom is needed 
  • To this day I never say "it's a quarter till..." or "it's a quarter past.." and I still don't hold my pen in that tri-pod grip. At the time when I was six or seven I thought that because I didn't "get" these concepts I would amount to nothing, or that I would never become an adult. Clearly I was so very wrong. Obviously kids with any kind of disability are going to have challenges, but just because they are struggling doesn't mean that they should feel like it is the end of the world! 

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