In my experience, Special Education Students have always been associated with a stigma in our society. The main-stream has avoided them, spoken softly about them, and looked upon them with pity. But they are rarely treated with any respect or sense of value. While performing as a substitute teacher at a local High School, I was asked to fill in for a teacher who taught in the school's Autism Room. What I discovered was that the students in that room were not only Autistic, they were students with a variety of disabilities at various levels. Because of my two weeks in that classroom, I will be forever changed and believe that every new teacher should spend at least one week in such a classroom. It was an awesome teaching and learning experience for me. The Special Education Presentation was an outstanding confirmation of what I have learned and experienced during my two weeks assisting in that class.
What Surprised Me
I was a surprise to learn that it was a recent as October 2010 that the term “mental retardation” was still being used on a formal level. And I was equally surprised to learn that President Barak Obama was instrumental in making a change that removed that term from formal vernacular. With all the radio and TV news that I expose myself to every day, I am surprised that no one ever mentioned such a milestone event in the world of education and classification of students with disabilities. The fact that it was made into an actual law was actually not so much of a surprise, but the fact that it was necessary to make it a law was surprising because there must have been a belief that it would be difficult for people to transition out of or break the habit of using that term. I was surprised to learn that there are vast numbers of children listed with disabilities in the US. Not that I myself paid much attention to the amount of people that I meet or have had contact with, but just that I did not realized there were so many and to think about how mainstream society has treated them over the years is astounding.
What Frightened Me
As I think of all the fast foods and sugar saturated foods that children— as well as everyone else— eat in our modern society, I can only be shocked to think about how many children are either misdiagnosed or undiagnosed with ADHD since the diet that was described during the presentation was one that is to be low in sugar, gluten free, non-dairy, and vegan. When I examined the menu in the dining hall of the schools I have worked with over the past three years, I can honestly say that our children at the high school level are still being loaded with sugar and gluten and certainly not anything resembling a vegan diet. Although there have been some efforts made to include healthier snacks in machines, foods like Pop Tarts are still listed as meeting the dietary standards of the CCSD and are sold as snacks in many schools. Mass produced processed canned fruits are the mainstay for deserts during lunch and cinnamon rolls and French toast sticks are a mainstay for breakfast. I am not saying that these foods are not wholesome, but in my opinion (which is not a professional dietary one) the increase sugar in the diet of children can and does exacerbate their issues with ADHD and might be contributing to misdiagnosis or under diagnosis of these conditions. In these cases it frightens me to think that I might have a student with this disability and that student could be treated as misbehaving when it is simply a factor of what he or she just ate for lunch. Especially when you consider that students probably did not have much of a choice in what they ate, nor were they aware of their choices.
What Impressed Me
I was impressed with the story about Holland. People with disabilities are simply different than anyone else hence why I like the saying I came up with some years ago while working at a youth camp three years ago, “You are different and so am I and that makes us all the same…Different” I was also impressed with the fact that there is a standard that teachers must follow in teaching and educating students with disabilities and therefore those teachers cannot use excuses to avoid those students. I was impressed with the concept that states that it is not about a “fair and appropriate public education” but it is about and only about “free and appropriate public education.” I was impressed with the acrostics used to describe Autism as it removes the stigma of the disability and makes it simply a differences in the person, although still straightforward in its definition.
What Will I Do with the Information
This information along with my very, very limited but rewarding experiences teaching and educating students with disabilities will now increase my desire to learn all that I can about teaching these students. The fact that there can and will be students that have a very mild disability and who can function within a “standard” classroom will make me far more aware of the fact that they have their own individual needs and that those needs are to be met without any prejudice from me or any student or other teacher. I will educate myself on my own time as well as any courses afforded to me by the CCSD whenever I can. I will ensure that I am active in the development, maintenance, and tracking of IEP’s whenever and if ever I have a student with this program in place. As Dr. Wong states “We are to educate children…not teach subjects.” And children come in different looks, builds, backgrounds, and intelligence levels…and all are ready and eager to learn, to grow, and to be inspired.