Let’s Hear It For Special Ed
I began my teaching career in 1969 as a substitute teacher in California. I had gotten a degree in German and could not find a school that taught German there. The intense Cold War competition had ended, and many students did not even take a foreign language in high school. When offered a stipend in 1972 to get a Master’s Degree, I jumped at the chance. Back then, Early Childhood was called Preschool, so my degree was in Preschool Special Education. This time, the educational establishment had not kept up with universities and there were no classrooms yet created for that population. I was able to get a certificate in Emotional Disturbance (with only one class in the field) because teachers were so badly needed. I began teaching elementary students in western Illinois and quickly learned a new term: Learning Disabilities. Almost every student I had was having behavior problems, but they also suffered from ADHD – attention and hyperactivity disorder. Some suffered from ADD, without the hyperactivity. But almost all were diagnosed with Learning Disabilities. I attended conferences, read everything I could get my hands on, and became familiar for strategies to help my students that learned differently than most. The volume of knowledge that was to accrue on this one area of disability alone has been overwhelming. Since that year long ago, I have taught students with disabilities for 26 years and since retired. It was to become a pivotal piece of knowledge in my parenting.
In 1995, the teacher of one of my children called. She had placed two of my older children in super-accelerated math and wasn’t sure if my third should receive the same placement because s/he was on the cusp. I had noticed difficulty with this child when we tried to help with math. S/he could see the math concept if we used a diagram, but could not remember how the teacher said to do it. I decided to have psychological testing, which I could not really afford (insurance later paid me back). It turned out this child had auditory processing problems, along with visual-motor difficulties. I had seen this syndrome hundreds of times in my job, but had not noticed it at home. We made the decision for the math class with this knowledge, and my child was much happier.
As a teacher of Early Childhood Special Education for 22 years, I once had a student that was so obviously gifted at the age of 3 that we had to mention it to the parents. Unfortunately, my supervisor was pretty negative about providing for the needs of gifted children and said it didn’t matter. Still, this child had Klippel-Feil syndrome; fused vertebrae in his neck, a hearing impairment, and cleft palate. We had trouble understanding him normally, but when he was telling us about the climate in Papua, New Guinea, we had no idea what he was saying, until we could figure out what the topic was. He could even find Papua on the world map in the school library!
Recently, programs are beginning to serve the needs of students on the Autism Spectrum who are gifted. Some common Learning Disabilities are Visual Discrimination, Visual Perception, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Language Processing Disorder, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, and Visual Perceptual/ Visual-Motor Deficit. More about these problems can be found at the Learning Disabilities Association page. In addition, recent research has brought to light the incredible creativity often associated with Learning Disabilities.
Personally, just imagining the multitude of variations that can occur in the human brain is enough to set one back. I believe it is the duty of every parent of gifted children to familiarize themselves with their child. There are developmental checklists on the web, books of all kinds about gifted, and twice exceptional gifted children. My child received no special services in school because s/he was doing fine in her classes, but when s/he went to college (multiple times), I made sure s/he had a tape recorder for lectures. This child is now working for a Master’s Degree in Speech/Language Therapy and loving the challenge. If I had not validated the difficulties, the result could have been very different.