How it feels to see your child with intellectual disability succeed
She came home smiling. “Guess what happened in the L.A. final today?” she asked. “I took the final by myself,” she announced, before I even had a chance to guess.
“There wasn’t a [paraprofessional], but I told Ms. H I could do it without one. I told her I was ready and could do it on my own.”
My heart was pounding, but I stayed cool. “That’s awesome,” I said. She was still smiling. “I told Ms. H, ‘I got this.’” Apparently, she did.
It was her moment: one of growing confidence, of developing context, of learning through literature. The ninth-grade language arts final was on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We had spent several hours reviewing the nonmodified study guide. It had straightforward questions about who was who, and it also asked students to make inferences and to share their opinions and thoughts about complex concepts such as motivation, responsibility, and jealousy.
My daughter is 15 and a freshman at our neighborhood high school. This is the first time she has taken a final that was not modified. And the first time that I understood why that was exactly the best choice, even though it was not planned.
My girl said her first word at three years old. She learned the letters in her name when she was five. At 10, she could read at a first-grade level. She reads at a beginning sixth-grade level now. Every year of her schooling, her work is modified to her level. It seemed to make sense, but now I am not so sure.
Several factors played into this wonderful success. I can’t really say which is most important; it’s the cumulative effect that made this test doable.
- Teacher time. It took us most of the year to figure this out, but once we did, it catapulted her comprehension and engagement. Most weeks, my girl went to see the teacher during the teacher’s office hours, and they discussed what my girl understood and what she needed to work on. The teacher, not the paraprofessional, or para, spent time instructing her.
- Context. My girl was ready to engage in a story about teenagers in love. She was interested in romance and boyfriends and relationships. She had the comprehension skills necessary to follow the story and to make some inferences to present-day teen issues. She was comfortable sharing her thoughts and opinions in classroom discussions.
- Appropriate materials. Ms. H also made sure all her students had access to the materials they needed to understand Romeo and Juliet as literature and as a story and history. She suggested we get a No Fear Shakespeare version of the book and watch movie versions, and she used the school website to post study guides and supplemental materials. In short, she was an excellent teacher!
- Confidence. My girl had a good working relationship with the teacher, an understanding of the material, and a sense of herself, which led to the confidence she needed to easily take on the final exam. She also took the regular physical education final without support. Both the science and U.S. Government finals were also not modified, though she did have a para read her the questions and guide a bit too.
- Desire. My girl wants to be able to do what her peers can do. She used to hate her brain for not learning as well as others, but she has moved into an acceptance of who she is and how she learns. She could be taught in segregated special-education classrooms, but she wants to be in the same classes as her friends. She does take a special-education math class, as her math skills are at about a third-grade level. She is fine with that because math is very challenging for her and algebra is too big a stretch. My girl has told the paras to help only when she asks, as she wants to try to do what every other student is expected to do.
My girl knows she has disabilities. She uses the term “learning disabilities,” which is functionally true, though it is because she has an intellectual disability and significant speech delays. My girl also knows she is funny, kind, thoughtful, and a good friend. She has passions and goals. She will be on the swim team next year and has joined two clubs. And she wants to go to a school dance. I have a feeling I will be sharing that story soon.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Anna Stewart is ESME’s Kids with Special Needs Resource Guide and the Solo Mom of a daughter and two sons on the brink of adulthood. She’s a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities and those who love them.
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