Friday, March 17, 2006

Presuming Ability

Over a month ago, Kristina and her soul sister Mother’s Vox wrote posts that inspired me to write about my own experiences which caused me to discover the importance of presuming competence and islets of ability.
But then I got distracted.
And a little lazy.
And probably ended up posting something mundane and meaningless, but I don’t remember what it was.
But now that I am sorta unplugging in an attempt to hear my own inside voices as opposed to all of the spam and pop-up ads and what the radio seems to be calling music these days. And while I spend time with my own thoughts, I am slightly haunted by a post that keeps quietly reminds me needs to be written. Not read…it doesn’t need to be read, but written. I can’t get past this feeling that I am supposed to write this.

Over the course of teaching my little friends, I never cease to be amazed by what they know, understand and capable of. And when I am listening and paying very close attention to what my friends are doing and trying to say to the world, I am sometimes rewarded with a glimpse of their potential. During my teaching years, there is no one who demonstrated this more to me than my little friend William. William was and is a favorite student of mine (yes, I admit to having favorites, maybe that is wrong, but I just can’t help it).

While it may sound superficial, I will begin with a physical description, because William was so darn cute (all my friends are by the way, but he is especially so). He was six when I taught hem, had red hair, freckles and a teethy grin. He was slightly pudgy, but adorably so…In addition, William has, what is referred to as low tone. In other words, his coordination seemed quite awkward and his speech, quite unintelligible…that is assuming that you recognized the noises that he made as speech (unfortunately most people around him did not).

Let me continue to describe William by describing our first day together as student and teacher....lemesee…well, my first day of teaching couldn’t have been more disasterous (well, I’m sure it could have, but I can’t imagine what else could have gone wrong). One of my students I never met had run off of the bus and into a playground of approximately 300 kids and I was expected to find him, while I meanwhile had an irate bus driver because I wasn’t getting my remaining new students off of the bus in a timely manner, as one was REFUSING to get off of the bus “NO” with a firm kick to the seat in front of him was his replay to any request. Plea, negotiation to leave the bus to a school and a teacher he had never even seen before (Of course I told you my kids were smart). This really is just the beginning, but I will spare any reader of this the woe is me details especially since this day is really just the beginning of one of the most meaningful years of my life…but as for William. Well,William, as adorable as he is, is also quite, well, loud. …and quite dysregulated by change and new environments. Oh, and still in a diaper, which I was in no way prepared for. So William, on his first day of school, spent the entire day, screaming, banging his head with his fists, rolling around on the floor, taking his shoes off and attempting to pull off all of his clothes. And while I’m revealing all the details of my first day as a teacher of a Special Day Class consisting of students (grades K-4) all on the spectrum, let me just confess that I drove home the whole way crying and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

That was the first day. And while I can’t recall every subsequent day in such vivid detail, there were moments, good, bad and beautiful that are etched in my memory, and sentimentialy I recount a few of these moments, the ones that taught me to never underestimate or discount ANYONE, EVER.

Well the rolling around the floor and taking off clothes bit lasted no more than two days…this is where the mean-ole ABA teacher took over and insisted that 1. Clothes stay on (yes, I know, I’m a meanie) and 2. You participate with the rest of the class (again, I’m a meanie, an no child of my classroom is left behind or rolling around one the floor). The shoes took a few more days, but they never came off after the first week and a half. And after these issues, well my William became the superstar that he was always meant to be. Not only did he sit for Circle time, but he became my Calendar helper. He laeraned (or demonstrated for the first time) to count, identify numbers and add. He began to learn phonics and sight words. All of these things would seem unremarkable except he had an in-home behavior consultant that upon the request of Williams mom visited the classroom one day to observe. At the end of the day she told me that this was the first time ever that William was part of a class…I asked her what she meant and she told me that in all of his past classes he would just be off on his own screaming and stimming and was not a part of the class at all. William had already demonstrated his willingness and capacity to learn, so imagining him spending an entire year left behind broke my heart.

William, for whatever reasons scared a lot of people (the loud stimmy screaming was probably what did it), and as a result had a one to one aide. His aide was named Amy (note, I always change my friends names, but “Amy” was his aides real name). Amy was young and sensitive, but very sweet and loving. One of the things that Amy and William would do together is play with play-doh…at some point Amy began rolling play-doh into long strips and I remember the first time she did this she got extremely excited and said “Squaregirl! Squaregirl! William’s making letters!” And indeed he was. He made Amy’s strips into the letters “A”,”B”,”C” subsequently. This was very exciting! We had no idea William knew or even cared about letters, yet clearly he was demonstrating that he did. The next time he and Amy played this “game”, Amy nearly hyperventilated…”SquareGirl! William just spelled “Pig”, “Cow”, “Dog” etc. Again…this was very exciting to see this from someone who’s last IEP goals included keeping his shoes on for more than an hour an who apparently never participated in any classroom activites. So as much as I loved William and am confident that William loved me, mid-year, when Amy was out sick, William grabbed my hand and led me toward where the play-doh was kept…”ABC” he told me in his ow tone that I never would have understood a few months earlier, but had obtained new listening skills. I pulled down the play-doh and rolled it into long strips the way I knew Amy did with him and he did what he had done with Amy in the past…make an “A”. I continues to make the strips, expecting a “B” from him, buit instead, he made an “M” and of course my last strips turned into a “Y”. I don’t even know where to begin to explain what this meant to me…William can spell…William is trying to tell me something: He does this with Amy, he misses Amy, Where is Amy? This was just the beginning of my understanding of my friend William, much of which I would like to share over time...he is quite an amazing individual….this is not even the tip of the iceberg of his ability…


Blogger Eileen said...

That's so great how he spelled out Amy's name. I bet that made Amy feel pretty great to be so missed! Yes, we should never underestimate our little friends.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Kristina Chew said...

Your story of William tells why it is so necessary to "presume competence" and yet such a challenge for most people. Not the "squares"!

9:40 PM  
Blogger QueenBitch said...

Great story. Emotional connections are so important for all of us, but especially children who absolutely need someone they know they can trust. Amy sounds like a great lady...lucky for William that he has two great ladies he can trust.

6:53 AM  
Blogger gretchen said...

I'm glad to know that you have favorites. I, of course, hope that Henry is the favorite of all his teachers. (I know a few who have favored him so far in his brief educational career.)

"Presume competence." Yes. I have started making more of an effort to say hello to the little girl who rides to school with Henry. She never speaks to me or really makes eye contact (she sort of looks in my direction sometimes.) But I am acting on the presumption that she acknowledges my attention and appreciates it. I would not want anything less for my own child.

10:54 AM  
Blogger SquareGirl said...

Eileen, Amy loved it! She felt quite touched...

KC...I guess it is a challenge for most people...we squares are quirky and idiosyncratic, so we just don't get the normal way of seeing things...a blessing I would say...

QueenBee, always nice to see you here...Amy was a sweet insecure 19 year old...a lovely addition to our classrooom/family..she had an amazing bond with William and it was a beautiful thing to witness!

gretchen...alas, i admit it. I do have favorites, even though I really do love ALL of my littel friends. Continue to make an effort with that girl...I can guarantee that you really never know ones potential, so it is important to presume competence. I'm sure that Henry has and will make connections and bonds with teachers who will consider him to be a favorite...

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