Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Passing it on

The following arrived in my inbox this morning, courtesy of an email list, mostly inactive, that I've been lurking around for years.

It reads to me like the author would like it passed on, and though I usually hit the delete button the moment I see the words 'send this request to ... people you know', this time I think I will post it here.


It's never just about Ability…?
A call for reflection - a few minutes at lunchtime 29 July 2010 –
Let’s make lunchtime today a time of inclusion, not exclusion. Let’s think about recognising and supporting all special needs people, regardless of their abilities or inabilities.

I believe that from birth to death everyone has the opportunity to experience the wonders of ability, as well as the frustrations of inability. We all experience the wondrous diversity of the human mind. For some, the extreme zones of ability and inability are infrequent or short visits. Others are trapped in, or find themselves leapfrogging between, the extremes.

People at either extreme of the ability / inability spectrum are generally recognized as having ‘special needs’. Most commonly, special needs people are associated with having visible disabilities. Yet, the majority of people who have abilities also have disabilities, often hidden from sight. All too often, we fail to see the weaknesses in those with abilities, just as we fail to recognize the strengths of those with inabilities. These difficulties are not always medical or biological. They can also be systemic, situational, sociological or political.

Each person is an individual, with a unique degree of ‘ability’ and ‘inability’. Stereotyping often restricts people to one end of the spectrum. Sadly, this denies recognition of their other abilities and or inabilities.

As a community, how we face these ‘special needs’ helps to shape our culture and attitudes to life long learning. As individuals with special needs, how we feel and how others treat us affects our character, general wellbeing, stress levels and how we cope with life.

On 29 July 2010, I am giving a talk at the 11th Asia Pacific Conference on Giftedness. My paper is about suggestions regarding school policy for special needs children, at either end of the ability spectrum. I decided that to coincide with this presentation, I would run a Call for Reflection campaign. I believe that there is not enough understanding of the difficulties of special needs people. I believe that there is too much stereotyping, and that this needs to be raised in the public eye.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you are either in this position, or know of a friend, relative, partner, work colleague, and you would like to take some action on their behalf, then please:

1.     Reflect on these problems and solutions at lunchtime on 29 July 2010. 
2.     Send this request to as many people as you know. 
3.     Send a message of hope to these people, so they know they are not alone.  
4.      Visit our website www.g3n1u5.com for more details.
5       Facebook Event. http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=109599895757172
6.      Facebook Cause  http://www.causes.com/causes/506402/members 
7.      Email Tony  tony@g3n1u5.com 

About the Author

Anthony Nolan, OAM, JP, who scored a perfect score in an IQ test at 99.9 percentile, is the current treasurer of the NSW Association for Gifted & Talented Children, and the gifted children's coordinator for MENSA Australia, the high IQ society. He runs online support groups for gifted adults and visual spatial thinkers, mentors children, contributes to gifted publications, and has advised members of parliament. Tony has Aspersers, Dyslexia, and ADHD difficulties. Tony received recognition from Rotary, NSW Parliament (Lower House), a Local Hero Award (Lane Cove), and received an OAM in 2001, for his contributions to community. 

Absentee Note

I've been away for a while, haven't I? Excuses forthcoming -
It was school holidays and my computer is in the main living room, so I had NO PRIVATE TIME, and I can't write about the boys when they're reading over my shoulder.
Once the school holidays finished, the first week of school was just horrible.

I've almost recovered from the trauma of last week, but now I'm on holidays, and have been learning to play on eBay in an attempt to clear the junk from our garage. And isn't eBay a black hole? I'll just do a bit of price research, and take some photos of the junk, and ooh, look, a bid... it's time for dinner already. At least it's a fun black hole, unlike the one I fell into last week.

You see, it goes like this - Dreamer is doing a University chemistry subject while at high school. They have classes after school once a week taught by their regular teacher. We'd received paperwork last term about the need to attend the Uni for 3 days to complete laboratory assessments. Said paperwork was promptly filed under 'worry about that after the holidays'.

Picture me making my first morning coffee on the pupil-free Monday at the end of the school holidays. I'm very relaxed, and plonk myself in front of the computer to do my usual email check. There's one from the University coordinator, with attached schedule of what experiments are to be done on which days.

I'm on holidays, the kids are on holidays, do I know what date it is? Nope. But a little warning bell goes off, and I check my diary...

Watch the coffee go flying. Watch Lisa look at the date, and the clock, and run around the house like a headless chook.

It was 7:30am, and Dreamer had to be at Uni by 8:30 to start day one of the practical assessments, and up until that minute, we'd ALL believed that it was going to be a quiet, last day of the holidays, and Dreamer was still asleep, and Dreamer has a - let's say difficult - time with transitions and coping with the unexpected.

I don't know how I did it. I have NO idea how Dreamer did it, but we made it, through peak hour traffic no less, to the University on time. Ideal preparation? Reading the provided workbook for the experiments? Calm and ready for an assessment? No, no, no.

Day one went surprisingly well, and Dreamer received great marks for his two experiments. During the drive home, however, he looked exhausted, and hardly said a word.

Day two was a disaster. It was probably a delayed reaction to the stress of the Monday, something that is a bit of a pattern here. He went all passive resistance, and just didn't get out of bed, and said he had a headache, and dragged his feet, and I pushed and pulled and nagged... but he got there. Fail marks on the first experiment, and scraped through on the second.

Day three was a half-day with only one experiment to do. Dreamer woke, ate breakfast, cleaned his teeth and went to his room to get dressed. I dropped my guard, and popped onto the computer to check emails.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.
He didn't get dressed - he went back to sleep.
I didn't realise until I called him when it was time to leave.

Recriminations, frustrations, encouragement, hair-tearing.

I remembered reading that the lab. doors opened at 8:30am, and closed at the beginning of the assessment at 9am. We were never going to make it in time, but we kept going. I dropped him off at 9:05, and parked nearby, expecting a call to let me know he'd been locked out and missed the assessment.

He didn't call. In fact, he did extremely well in that last experiement.

I felt completely wrung out. I felt like I'd been dragging a dead weight for three days.
He says he really, really wants to do something, and yet continually self-sabotages with his passive resistance.

Was the stress of unfamiliar surroundings and the pressure of  assessment that hard on him? He was at the Uni. from 8:30am until 4pm for two days, and 9am until midday on the third. He was effectively non-functional for the rest of those days.

Very soon, I have to stop dragging him and pushing him, not least because I'm exhausted by it.

If that's what's ahead in his life (and mine) if he goes to University, then I don't think he'll be going to Uni for a few years yet.

She canna take it Cap'n

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What did you say?

And what did you really mean?

The boys walked down to Blockbuster yesterday, and rented a few movies.
I arrived home from work last night to find them all lined up along the sofa, engrossed in No Country for Old Men.

At the end of the movie He-Who-Has-No-Nickname, feeling all warm and fuzzy, said "It's wonderful how you boys are starting to watch good movies."

A nice compliment on how their taste is developing? Well, no.

The night went pear-shaped.

Dreamer launched into a defensive tirade about how No-Nickname was wrong, and listing 'good' movies they'd watched before. Curly started in also, and everyone was talking over the top of everyone else.

Poor No-Nickname, who'd had a long day of chores* and kid-wrangling** while I'd been at work, lost it and went back at them for being ungrateful, interrupting, not letting him finish, and stomped off outside.

I was in a better place (having had a pleasantly quiet afternoon at work), and was left to pick up the pieces. Thank Maud for tag-team parenting.

Dreamer and I sat and talked.

I had to explain that 'starting to watch' meant 'starting in the last year or so', not 'starting now'.
Dreamer's eventual response, once he'd calmed down, was "Why didn't he SAY so, then?"

The explanations and calming took about half-an-hour. All over one, little, throw away, one sentence, compliment.

**Dreamer's friend C has been staying with us for most of the week. C is  seventeen also, but has not been trained in the ancient arts of avoiding the piss-and-miss, or even in cleaning up if you make a mess, or opening the blinds in the bedroom in the morning and closing them before you go to sleep, or hanging up your towel after a shower instead of leaving it crumpled on the bed, or it might be a good idea to look for yesterday's towel before getting a fresh one from the cupboard, or ...
His mother asks us "Is he normal", and we say "No", but she doesn't believe us.

*Chores included getting the kids to help make dinner. It goes like: C would you slice the cheese please? OK. Dreamer, would you slice tomatoes please? OK. They both do exactly, precisely what they've been asked, and when your back is turned, drift silently out of the kitchen. You go and find them back on the Xbox, and ask them to come back to the kitchen, and they say "But I've done what I was asked."

Meanwhile, Speedy and Curly do their bits, then turn and ask "What do I do next?" And whinge later about how they always end up doing most of the work, which is true.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Education System with a capital 'S'

I don't hate it. It's the only way. If you have masses of children to 'educate', you have to design a system that will work most effectively and efficiently for the largest part of the population.

So, I'd guess that the traditional system works OK-to-great for about 80% of the population.

Now, what to do with the other 20%?

The general system will fail them. It has to. It is not designed for them. Statistically speaking.

Oh, there are PC nods towards the minorities, but they are so thinly spread. I doff my cap to the many wonderful special ed. teachers and learning support specialists, who are given maybe 4 hours per week per student to work miracles, and keep trying.

Let's take a hypothetical inclusive school. They have 100 students. Of those, 80 are catered for in 4 classrooms. Great. What happens to the other 20 students?

For the kid in the wheelchair, the school must build ramps and paths. For the one blind kid, railings along the paths, purchase expensive technology, deliver all resources in braille.
For the sole deaf kid, the media teacher has to re-write the assessment piece that had the students analyzing radio advertising.
For the gifted child, there will need to be university level maths courses taught, while not clashing with the timetable for her physical education classes.

Have I mentioned the dyslexic child, the autistic child, the ADHD child, the sensory child, the ... I'm nowhere near 20 unusual children, am I?

Has the school exhausted it's budget and teachers? Yes.

Does each of these 20 children need a truly individual education plan, with ample resources to implement it, to gain an equivalent education to the 80 who are able to (more-or-less) benefit from the 'system'. Yes.

Is it easier just to educate the majority, and treat the 20% as an acceptable number of failures for society?  I think that'd come under the heading of Risk Management Strategy.

I'm sure some will struggle through despite the system, and manage to develop some ability to contribute (albeit not to their full capability) and therefore the actual failure rate - those who are never able to function in society - will be lower.

Toss them to a sheltered workshop, or unskilled 'work', and don't worry about them. Pay the rest social security, and let their parents take the burden of caring.

I really do wonder if the cost of 12 years of intensive, individual education would be greater than the cost of 50 years of social security payments. Call it 'early intervention'. Or 'preventative education'.