Learning from the Learning Disabled
by, 11-28-2010 at 09:35 (6414 Views)
A quip that made the rounds when I was a teenager went " I believe normalcy is vastly overrated." We usually pulled it out when some adult complained our bizarre behavior, behavior that we chose to do just to have fun and act like goofs.
Our society is replete with what is Normal. There are normal I.Q. scores, normal test scores for PSAT's, SAT's, and other normalized tests. 120/80 is your normal blood pressure. Recently we have been treated to a number called a Body Mass Index that supposedly tells us if we a obese are not. There are normal FICO scores that tell the banks if we are good credit risks and even polls to tell us where we fit in to our society as to our political or religious beliefs with some number representing what is considered normal, read that as agreed to by a majority of people.
How good is it to be normal? Arnold Schwarzzenager would NOT have had a normal BMI. Bill Gates probably doesn't have a normal FICO score. Mother Theresa , now Saint Theresa, would probably fall outside of normal religious beliefs and every one is aware of how Albert Einstein did poorly in school for a while. Recently I learned that Rush Limbaugh flunked debate class in college. Obviously, in some cases, normal truly is vastly overrated.
But what of the people who truly are different than the rest of us. Those created, that is born, genetically different, or those made different by some accident.
For this article I will concentrate on those who are different mentally, those that are currently called Learning Disabled, who in the past who called Mentally Retarded or Mentally Ill.
The names of the syndromes have changed, partly due to political correctness, partly due to a desire to give dignity to a person and partly due to an increased understanding that there are more than one flavor syndrome out there.
Whereas 50 years ago those with Mental Retardation (M.R.) were classified as Idiots, Morons, Educatable and Trainable, that changed to Mild , Moderate, Severe and Profound which is still used but modified with adjectives and proper nouns like Autism, N.O.S., Organic Brain Syndrome and a host of other terms that professionals love to use but often prove of little use in actually designing a treatment plan for the person. In fact at times the title becomes a limiter as the experts will say he is profoundly retarded so he will only be able to do "X".
The literature, the blogs and the support groups are literally stuffed with stories of persons who far exceeded the limits placed on them by the experts. And not seldom do the Disabled end up teaching the experts.
Society again is obsessed with what is normal. In education and in industry this translates to how much you can learn, how fast you learn it, do it and even how you do it. Universities and New Employee Orientations produce cookie cutter graduates and employees even as Seminars and Human Resources extol the virtues of thinking outside the box. Obviously there is a disconnect there and it is the "Normals doing.
People who are disabled ,or "different" definitely will not do well when compared to normals on normalized tests. "Mainstreaming" which is putting them in a group of normals sometimes with extra help is meant to push them along to their ultimate ability. This can work sometimes and in itself is not bad. But it fails to take into account that sometimes there is more than one way to arrive at a solution.
Persons who are born or made different can have a leg up on normals in seeing different paths to a desired result. Normals just need to give them a listen, and sometimes it takes longer for the "different' to express themselves. Normals will at times assume that "differents" don't get it, can't understand the topic of conversation and dismiss out of hand any suggestion they try to make. But if given the chance, you may be surprised at what they can teach you.
Here's an example from my own family. My son Kenneth has autism. Like many with Autism, speech is a challenge for him. Last month he attended a retreat for High School kids preparing for Confirmation. I have been many of these myself as a parent of 8 kids so I knew what he would doing. Ken attended this retreat by himself, something unthinkable in itself a mere four years ago.
We dropped Ken off at 9:00 a.m. and I picked him at 6:30 p.m. On the way home we had the normal father/son talk. How was your day what did you do, etc ?
Ken told me they talked about the faith and created posters to put there thoughts in pictures. This was in line with previous retreats I had attended. So I asked, "What did you draw?"
He said, "A balloon."
I bit my tongue as I had an almost reflex "what the heck" reaction.
He then slowly explained, the faith is in the balloon. The more you learn the bigger the balloon gets. Sometimes the Devil tries to pop your balloon.
I was speechless, something very rare believe me. All I could say was, "Ken, I think you got it right."
Ken saw the teaching in a way totally different than I had ever thought of it or saw it represented, and as I said I have been to at 8 retreats in the last 10 years. And yet, in a concise and clear way, he got it in a way that I think anyone can understand.
There have been other instances where I automatically thought my kids don't get it only to learn that yes they did.
If I, as there father, can assume they are lost when they are not, what will a stranger think, how will society react?
At the Hapkido class Ken and his brother Stephen attend, the instructor will often finish class with a talk on the Principles of Hapkido, Virtue, Humility, Respect, etc.
He asked once, what if you had to go somewhere that was not safe. One student responded, Don't go or go later when it is safe. The first rule of self defense, stay away from trouble when you can. He got it!