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Special Minds, Special Facts: Unlocking New Understandings
This blog entry shares insights about an adult with special needs whose mom is in a church group with my oldest daughter. I do not personally know the mom or her son, but her answers reminded me of some of the students I had in my career. He knows the exact date, including the time of day when certain events occurred. She said he has a Rolodex of information. That is a great visual to explain information that is not always instantly available. Very often, people with special needs have an amazing wealth of knowledge, especially on certain subjects. The recall may take time, and be out of context to the conversation, but it is ever-present.
An example the mom gave was when someone said that it was 60 years since J.F.K. was shot; her son then said, “I was at the sixth-floor museum, and I looked out the window where Lee Harvey Oswald shot him. We were there on June 17, 1997.” The mom went on to describe how they could be talking about a place and all of a sudden he would say it was June 6, 2003; the date that we actually visited the location being referenced.
Q: What is one thing you wish teachers knew about your child that is not on the IEP?
A: These students are like sponges. They love to soak up all kinds of information.
Q: Scores on tests do not define the child. What is something your child is really good at that is not reflected on tests?
A: He remembers all kinds of facts and can spell anything he has ever seen in print.
He just can’t always give you the answer to a question right away. He often requires time to search through what I call his Rolodex of information.
Q: How important is homework for your child? Is it just a burden, or is it a helpful learning tool?
A: Homework is okay to do a small sample of what was covered, but just doing repetition (such as math problems) is not helpful. He just needs to get the concept.
Q: How old was your child when you first knew he/she had special needs?
Q: What is one piece of advice you have for someone who has a newly diagnosed child with special needs?
A: Just go with your heart. You know your child better than anyone else and see how they think and learn.
Q: What is one meal that everyone in your family likes to eat?
A: Any pasta meal
Q: What advice do you have for interacting with children with special needs?
A: Do not speak down to them. Address them in an age-appropriate way. Adults with disabilities especially do not like to be treated as young children (even though they may act like one.)
Q: What activities do you recommend to other parents to foster self-care?
A: Find something you enjoy or have a passion to do and make time for it.
Q: Are there any support groups that you recommend for parents or children?
A: Find another parent to talk to, often a parent of a child or young adult who is older than yours is very helpful.
Q: What are your favorite family activities?
A: Church, sporting events, concerts, plays, and trips to the art museum.
This mom had great advice for support groups. She said to find a parent of a child who is older than yours, and that made me think of my own kids, especially as a first-time mom. I looked to my older sisters for wisdom. They both were teachers and moms and shared a lot of common sense and mom wisdom. I also had two aides in my classroom who served as role models for me as a mother, especially since my own mom had passed away when I was in my early twenties. We can all benefit from the wisdom of friends who have older children.
The advice of not speaking down to adults with special needs also resonates strongly with me. This is an important reminder that adults with disabilities do not like to be treated as children. We need to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Take time today to have a conversation with someone who has special needs. Don’t talk down to them, but instead, listen, and you probably will learn something new.