Growing up, she quickly realized the smile that would create those dimples, was like a magic cape that would make her invisible...even when she wanted to be seen. Many acquaintances, friends and even teachers knew that behind the facade of a beautiful home, lived the girl who could not possibly be “ok”...but no one ever asked.
When she entered her high school years, a teacher realized a pattern in missing days at school...and the teacher asked, “Are you ok?” The young girl froze in surprise of the question, looked at the teacher and smiled…”Yes, of course I’m ok.” Her “magic cape” allowed her to vanish in plain sight once again with her grades slowly faltering. Her barrier was the inability of verbal expression under intense stress, fear and/or anxiety.
While she was a typical student in the mainstream classroom who could speak and read and write text, this story makes me think of all of the students that come to classrooms daily from diverse backgrounds and needs...each one with their own form of a “magic cape.” With that in mind, working to create a universally designed environment (UDL) may seem like a daunting task when working with students with disabilities and/or emotional & behavior disorders. How are those students able to access what they know or how they feel if they are unable to access that communication in the way that they need? I would like to focus on one of the UDL principles- “multiple means of expression.”
Behaviors happen for a reason and they can adversely affect a student’s educational performance. Some students would rather have a physical or emotional outburst or shut down completely when asked to do a task in front of the classroom- before they will EVER let their peers know that they struggle with reading or completing what seems to be a simple math problem to most. Some students may be repeatedly told in various ways that they are not smart; which in turn causes them to disengage academically and socially. Not all students can express what they know or how they feel verbally. What about our students who are nonverbal? Not all students can express what they know or how they feel in written text. What about our students with physical disabilities?
At times, we get so caught up in what is in front of us, whether it is the disability, the behavior or even the dimples- that we avoid or forget to simply ask, “Are you ok?” A simple gesture that when asked, we must provide various ways for our students to respond in a way that best fits them. A few examples are verbally, written, text-to-speech, drawing, recorded response, AAC, pictures, etc.
Getting to the core of what is creating the behavior and addressing that with your student, can certainly assist in avoiding what I like to refer to as the behavioral domino effect. Meaning, when one falls without being caught, it lands on another that falls, which lands on another, etc. Before you know it, you have a whole line of new behaviors. If you have ever lined up dominoes to create the chain reaction of falling in a pattern, then you know that if you want to set them back up...you have to set the very FIRST one back up that fell.
Let’s help our struggling students KNOW and FEEL that we care and that they CAN achieve great things. Sometimes that IS the most important thing they need to know and understand.
For those of you who may want to know what happened to “Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples,” I do not want to close this blog with a story half written. A teacher did ask her AND her entire class one day a simple question in the form of a writing prompt: “Tell me something that you think I would never guess about you.” The young lady wrote and she wrote and she kept writing...
If you were to ask her if she is “ok” today...she will offer you a real smile, with no magic cape and now verbally respond, “Absolutely.” I can answer for her with complete confidence...
...because she, is me.