Dealing with Differences
By Cheryl Ann Fernando
May 28, 2015
When I was in school, I struggled a little with my studies. I found it strange that the tasks that seem so easy for others were very difficult for me. For starters, I couldn’t spell a lot of words. I couldn’t tell left from right. I also took a long time to learn how to tell the time. My younger brother found it very amusing that he could do things better than I could. My teachers didn’t say much except wonder what was wrong with me. In fact, I was asked the same question many times, “What’s wrong with you?”
All through university, I still struggled with spelling and mathematics but persisted through to get good grades. A few years ago, I read about dyslexia and realised that I could relate to a lot of its symptoms. It finally made sense why certain tasks were so difficult for me, especially when it comes to spelling. Although I have never gone for a proper diagnosis, I knew that my symptoms were that of a dyslexic person.
I am certain that there are many other people out there who wonder what’s “wrong” with them. Many parents, just like my own, might also be curious why their child cannot tell left from right although they have taught them many times. In a class of 30-over students, a teacher might also struggle to deal with students who are differently abled.
If a parent with a special child has enough money, they are able to send them to a private or international school where they can get the necessary support to function normally in society. During my short stint in the learning support department in an international school, I saw how students with autism, dyspraxia and dyslexia were given so much help that they could manage their disability and perform well in school.
For the rest of us who cannot afford to go to a private or international school, we are left with little to no choice when it comes to special education. In Malaysia, we are still a work-in-progress when it comes to providing for our students with special needs. Students who are differently-abled in normal schools are encouraged to go to special schools but it is a known fact that they are not given adequate support academically when they are there. Many times, students with different kinds of learning disabilities are all placed in the same classroom. This hinders a teacher from providing them with the needed support to harness their potential.
In Malaysia, we also face a huge stigma when it comes to special education. We do not want to be known as “special”. We do not want to be known as “differently abled”. If anything, we want to blend in with the crowd. Sadly enough, our school system is also geared in such a way that we believe all our students are the same. We force the same syllabus for everyone, without knowing beforehand if they are dyslexic or have any other special learning disabilities.
Besides special needs, we also have nothing in place for our students who are gifted and talented. I read with great interest the story of Adi Putra Abd Ghani, the forgotten child genius. It was evident that we have nothing to support him. Because we have nothing, his best bet is to use his skills and talents elsewhere, in a country that can support his ability.
Just like Adi Putra, I’m certain there are many more geniuses in our system who are going to school day after day, following the same syllabus as their peers. I’m certain that they are many talented students in our system, students who can sing, draw and act; yet we have nothing to help them develop these talents. In the end, they would either try to make a name in a different country or give up and just be normal like the rest.
We cannot afford to forget our students, especially those who are differently-abled. We need to find a middle ground where our students are in an education system that caters to their learning abilities. We have a great pool of talent here in Malaysia, all of which will be wasted if we keep measuring them on the same standards.
There’s a famous quote from educationist Ignacio Estrada that says: “If a child cannot learn from the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”. It’s time for us to recognise and harness the talents in each of our children to help them see their own potential and inevitably, lead them to become useful members of the society.
Amy Murray is the director of early childhood education at the Calgary French & International School in Canada. The following post, which appeared on her blog, Miss Night’s Marbles and which I am republishing with her permission, is a powerful open letter directed to parents about THAT kid, the one other kids go home and talk about, the one who is violent, curses and gets angry in class, the one who parents worry will hurt, disrupt and perhaps influence their own children. Murray is also the co-founder of #Kinderchat (www.kinderchat.net), a twitter-based global community for educators of young children. She is a speaker and trainer on learning through play, self-regulation, behavior management, and the use of technology within the classroom.
I know. You’re worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting, shoving, pinching, scratching, maybe even biting other children. The one who always has to hold my hand in the hallway. The one who has a special spot at the carpet, and sometimes sits on a chair rather than the floor. The one who had to leave the block center because blocks are not for throwing. The one who climbed over the playground fence right exactly as I was telling her to stop. The one who poured his neighbor’s milk onto the floor in a fit of anger. On purpose. While I was watching. And then, when I asked him to clean it up, emptied the ENTIRE paper towel dispenser. On purpose. While I was watching. The one who dropped the REAL ACTUAL F-word in gym class.
You’re worried that THAT child is detracting from your child’s learning experience. You’re worried that he takes up too much of my time and energy, and that your child won’t get his fair share. You’re worried that she is really going to hurt someone some day. You’re worried that “someone” might be your child. You’re worried that your child is going to start using aggression to get what she wants. You’re worried your child is going to fall behind academically because I might not notice that he is struggling to hold a pencil. I know.
Your child, this year, in this classroom, at this age, is not THAT child. Your child is not perfect, but she generally follows rules. He is able to share toys peaceably. She does not throw furniture. He raises his hand to speak. She works when it is time to work, and plays when it is time to play. He can be trusted to go straight to the bathroom and straight back again with no shenanigans. She thinks that the S-word is “stupid” and the C-word is “crap.” I know.
I know, and I am worried, too.
You see, I worry all the time. About ALL of them. I worry about your child’s pencil grip, and another child’s letter sounds, and that little tiny one’s shyness, and that other one’s chronically empty lunchbox. I worry that Gavin’s coat is not warm enough, and that Talitha’s dad yells at her for printing the letter B backwards. Most of my car rides and showers are consumed with the worrying.
But I know, you want to talk about THAT child. Because Talitha’s backward B’s are not going to give your child a black eye.
I want to talk about THAT child, too, but there are so many things I can’t tell you.
I can’t tell you that she was adopted from an orphanage at 18 months.
I can’t tell you that he is on an elimination diet for possible food allergies, and that he is therefore hungry ALL. THE. TIME.
I can’t tell you that her parents are in the middle of a horrendous divorce, and she has been staying with her grandma.
I can’t tell you that I’m starting to worry that grandma drinks…
I can’t tell you that his asthma medication makes him agitated.
I can’t tell you that her mom is a single parent, and so she (the child) is at school from the moment before-care opens, until the moment after-care closes, and then the drive between home and school takes 40 minutes, and so she (the child) is getting less sleep than most adults.
I can’ tell you that he has been a witness to domestic violence.
That’s okay, you say. You understand I can’t share personal or family information. You just want to know what I am DOING about That Child’s behaviour.
I would love to tell you. But I can’t.
I can’t tell you that she receives speech-language services, that an assessment showed a severe language delay, and that the therapist feels the aggression is linked to frustration about being unable to communicate.
I can’t tell you that I meet with his parents EVERY week, and that both of them usually cry at those meetings.
I can’t tell you that the child and I have a secret hand signal to tell me when she needs to sit by herself for a while.
I can’t tell you that he spends rest time curled in my lap because “it makes me feel better to hear your heart, Teacher.”
I can’t tell you that I have been meticulously tracking her aggressive incidents for 3 months, and that she has dropped from 5 incidents a day, to 5 incidents a week.
I can’t tell you that the school secretary has agreed that I can send him to the office to “help” when I can tell he needs a change of scenery.
I can’t tell you that I have stood up in a staff meeting and, with tears in my eyes, BEGGED my colleagues to keep an extra close eye on her, to be kind to her even when they are frustrated that she just punched someone AGAIN, and this time, RIGHT IN FRONT OF A TEACHER.
The thing is, there are SO MANY THINGS I can’t tell you about That Child. I can’t even tell you the good stuff.
I can’t tell you that his classroom job is to water the plants, and that he cried with heartbreak when one of the plants died over winter break.
I can’t tell you that she kisses her baby sister goodbye every morning, and whispers “You are my sunshine” before mom pushes the stroller away.
I can’t tell you that he knows more about thunderstorms than most meteorologists.
I can’t tell you that she often asks to help sharpen the pencils during playtime.
I can’t tell you that she strokes her best friend’s hair at rest time.
I can’t tell you that when a classmate is crying, he rushes over with his favorite stuffy from the story corner.
The thing is, dear parent, that I can only talk to you about YOUR child. So, what I can tell you is this:
If ever, at any point, YOUR child, or any of your children, becomes THAT child…
I will not share your personal family business with other parents in the classroom.
I will communicate with you frequently, clearly, and kindly.
I will make sure there are tissues nearby at all our meetings, and if you let me, I will hold your hand when you cry.
I will advocate for your child and family to receive the highest quality of specialist services, and I will cooperate with those professionals to the fullest possible extent.
I will make sure your child gets extra love and affection when she needs it most.
I will be a voice for your child in our school community.
I will, no matter what happens, continue to look for, and to find, the good, amazing, special, and wonderful things about your child.
I will remind him and YOU of those good amazing special wonderful things, over and over again.
And when another parent comes to me, with concerns about YOUR child…
I will tell them all of this, all over again.
With so much love,
BRISBANE, Australia — A teenage girl with Down syndrome is looking to challenge perceptions of conventional beauty by pursuing a modeling career.
According to the Daily Mail, Stuart made the drastic life change by swimming five times a week, as well as cheerleading and hip-hop dancing. She also trained for “several” sports with the Special Olympics, Fusion reported.
In July she plans to travel to the U.S. to compete in dancing competitions with her dance group Bust a Move, which comprises teens and young adults with disabilities, the Daily Mail reports.
Stuart considers her disability a gift, the Daily Mail reports. With her new lease on life, Stuart wants to be a professional model.
“She loves the attention when she is up on the stage, doing a play or competing in gymnastics or cheer, and I have always taken millions of photos of her so she loves the camera,” her mother Roseanne told the Daily Mail.
Stuart has taken to outlets such as Facebook and Instagram in hopes she can land a modeling gig through an agent.
“…She really wants to change the way people discriminate against disability,” Rosanne said.
“If the average person could see the beauty Maddy has inside, how loving and caring she is and if that is what people measured beauty on, then most of the models in the world would have Down syndrome,” Stuart’s mother told the Daily Mail.
Anxiety starts at around 11 years of age, affects nearly a third of the population, and is known to run in families. So is it your fault if your child is terrified of spiders or fearful about flying?
It is enough to worry any parent. If you show your child you are anxious, will they grow up to be fearful too? I have a keen interest in the long-standing debate on how much anxiety is genetic versus environmental: “You’ll have your eye out with that,” was my father’s favourite phrase. It is known that anxiety runs in families. But since anxiety can be debilitating, affects up to 30% of people and starts on average at the age of 11, it would be helpful to know if parenting styles make a difference. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry this month compares levels of anxiety in families of identical twins with those of non-identical twins. There were 385 identical and 486 non-identical twin families in the survey, all part of the Swedish Twin and Offspring Study.
The study was designed to find out how much genetic factors cause anxiety compared with non-genetic ones. If cousins whose parents were identical twins were more likely to have anxiety than those whose cousins had parents who were non-identical twins, then genetics would be the stronger suspect.
Parents in the study reported their own anxiety levels using a personality questionnaire that asked them to rate their agreement with statements such as: “I often worry about little things which others see as unimportant.” The children were asked by researchers to rank statements such as, “I’m nervous” or “I worry quite a lot”. Both parents and children also rated their own levels of negative thinking.
The study showed that genetic factors were not the main driver for the children of anxious parents becoming anxious themselves. There was, however, some evidence of non-genetic influences. It may seem incredibly obvious that anxious parents make their children fearful: scream if you see a spider and it’s likely your child will, too. So should we be more careful not to make our children feel that the world is unsafe?
This study shows only the association, not the direction in which the anxiety was travelling – after all, anxious children could have been infecting their parents. Any parent whose child is panicking about exams will know how easily they themselves can feel sick with nerves. This study also was quite short-term – six months.
Regardless, it has to be a good idea to control anxiety in front of your children – they can be relentlessly alert to how you behave. So keep your arachnophobia to yourself, don’t let them know you are scared of flying and encourage sensible risk-taking. It’s not helpful for children to worry that the world is a scary place or that they’ll have their eye out if they open a can of drink.