‘It must be so, um, rewarding’
These are the kind of things many teachers and parents of students with special needs will have heard, people often struggle to think of what to say about the children in my class, visitors gather at the door unsure of how to interact with them, they wonder at the sight of staff spraying a student with a water bottle or gently encouraging them to stand, at adults signing, speaking, singing, using ipads and VOCA devices and flashing every kind of symbol, photo and object to try and ensure students are able to understand where they are going and what they are doing, at the 5 different supported seats arrange in a circle each with an adult in front as we go through our daily sensory story or say hello to our friends, at the tubes and pumps, the walkers and gait trainers lined up outside the door and of course the twiddles, jackets, chewies and other objects that help the students stay calm, focused and ready to learn.
The subtext of these sorts of comments is that my students aren’t really capable of learning, that we’re not really teachers and that schools like ours are simply there to keep students happy and out of the way.
Of course they’re wrong. The students in my class learn, they make progress, they work together and apart. They overcome enormous hurdles and each and everyone is, most importantly, an individual. They have good days and bad days like every other child, they’ll do things at school and not at home just like every other child, the have likes and dislikes, a sense of humour and a mischievous streak. We work them hard each and every moment of they day and they go home exhausted just like every other child.
So get down to their level, speak or sign or sing or wave. Even if they look away, flap, run off or you realise they can’t see or hear you ask ‘how do you like to communicate?’ Speak to them and not to me, say hi, shake hands , ask what they’re learning, what they like to do, whatever they can handle, because, at the heart of it they are just children are we are just a class and when you can look past all the chairs and equipment, past the devices and behaviours you’ll forget it all and just see the individual.