How Do We Know What They Know?

A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human and is encouraged to shape his own life. quote by Helen Keller
Following up on Jim’s Santa and gift message, I am reflecting on thoughts of thankfulness and anticipation. This is something for all professionals, educators, staff and loved ones to work together with students. We all have perspectives and skill sets that can make a difference and place a piece of the puzzle where it counts for challenging students to achieve in school. How do we know what they know?

When it comes to children with significant needs, we talk about needs and wants. But what does that really mean? Every year, we write it in goals for them and then we try to measure progress on those goals. Parents hope to know what their child’s wants and needs are, but how do we drill down from such a genuine but general statement to something meaningful for each person involved? How do we get to the richness, the fabric of life? This is truly a challenge and a noble effort. These are open and honest questions intended to go beyond comfort and safety into a different level of challenge for some students. How do we know what they know? In thinking about Christmas or Hanukkah or any holiday that might be celebrated we note a richness of the season. For those who do not celebrate holidays, each day on earth is enough of a celebration. This celebration is found in the seasons, the colors, the brightness, the sounds, the activity, the energy, the countdown, the clothes, the food, the gifts, the visits and the list goes on. How do we tap into this for our significantly or complex or medically involved students? How are they an active part of this cycle of life? How do we know what they know?

Here are some perspectives I’d like to share:
Some of these students are the most medically fragile students to attend school. This is difficult for some educators to balance because the medical status can be very overwhelming and demanding. Balance that with requirements of academic accountability and other limitations and it can seem a bit much at times, especially when various people have different perspectives on what is the right way to do something. We know learning occurs when one is actively involved. So let’s focus on thoroughly and actively engaging complex medical students in learning in the school environment. One little blog cannot possibly cover it all but here are some opening teasers:
  • Provide a schedule of events for each child
    • Engage them visually/auditory/physically with “their” schedule on or near their person within their visual/physical/auditory range.
    • Provide a purpose to every activity
      • You know what you are doing, so clue the student, son, daughter, sibling, in on it as well. It is an easy thing to unintentionally overlook. 
      • This requires full conversations, instead of just a single action or directive.
      • Rather than, “Put the spoon on the table,” explain the activity preferably with steps included, with rich vocabulary, because
    • Students need to know:
      • What are we doing?
      • What comes next?
      • How will I know I am done?
      • Is it worth my time? :)
    • Likely Result:
      • Positive behaviors will improve
      • Communication will increase
  • Home-school connection is important
    • Exact duplication may not make sense because of the two very different environments
      • (I can tell you that what worked for my children at Grandma’s had nothing to do with home life. Haha).
      • But we can usually agree about carryover and consistency and consensus
  • Determine a consistent and appropriate YES response
    • This response should be simple, consistent, not reflexive or not increase muscle tone.
    • Negation is not as critical. A long pause of silence can be a no response. If you can get a consistent "No" response, great.
    • Eventually a Y/N location on a board can be achieved.—even eye gaze.
  • Partner-Assisted Communication can be initiated at this point to engage complex medical/physical/communication students. 
Then communication can go beyond wants and needs and delve into richness of life interactions. Students can have a means of initiation and continuation. Students can have a means of ending a communicative moment. Interests, humor, dislikes, topical interests, preferences, depth, knowledge, background information can be explored or revealed. Once a student has established cause and effect, they have it. That’s it. Move on to something more challenging. If they start to fail at something they have been successful at, consider that the student might be bored or ready to move on. If the student sleeps a lot and it is not necessarily a medical or schedule issue, it may be boredom or a statement of negation. This is the potential for our students. Getting to the solution may not be fast, and there are a lot of factors that get in the way of progress for some students, yet knowing that we can all work together. Positioning, access, language, range, breathing, working around seizures. All this is a challenge. I will admit that some students are very difficult to figure out, yet overall let’s agree to raise the bar high, get excited about the seasonal offerings of variety and assume they are waiting for us to get on board with engagement, action, expression and multiple means of representation.

If Stephen Hawking were disabled sooner, would we have known his brilliance? If Helen Keller was left to roam around the table for scraps, would she have been the first Deaf-Blind person to receive a degree in America? If we expect our students to tell us what they know and keep trying to find ways to help them communicate, will they some day?


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Monday, 16 July 2018

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