The rest of the ASHA conference went by quickly. I truly enjoyed it and for a brief moment thought about pursuing speech-language pathology. Thoughts of taking college level biology came into my head and the brief moment ended, but it was there, regardless.
One three hour session I sat in on was 'Cultural Competence and Social Competence' presented by Li-Rong Lilly Cheng, from San Diego State University. She is a powerful and entertaining speaker and the three hours flew by quickly. At one point her talk shifted from her power point slides and hit on Virginia Tech shootings from this spring.
After going over other case-studies with us and discussing the importance of culture in each one, she brought up the background of the shooter. An immigrant to the US, he left Korea with suspected autism. In walking us through his first 8 years, just as she had with the other case-studies, she asked us to discuss what his symptoms looked like. From what she said, autism seemed clear. This would have come out in the social-history part of the IEP process. His family immigrated to the US to escape the shame of an autistic child in Korea, but once here he was not diagnosed. In our school systems he was considered simply a shy Korean child, whose culture and language kept him from communicating with teachers and peers. She read a poem he wrote, begging for someone to teach him to communicate and understand the world. In hindsight, the poem reflects what high-functioning autistic children write. They understand enough to know they don't get some code everyone else has, but they lack the ability to learn it themselves.
As she discussed the failure of the school system for not diagnosing him and giving him services he could have used to manage his anger I realized that she was discussing my school system. He was a product of my county, one of the largest and best school systems in the United States. We pride ourselves on our ESOL programs and all we do to include diversity and culture. Other school systems look to us for help as they struggle to educate ESOL students. Talking with educators from elsewhere you realize that we are ahead of the curve and that we do offer programs beyond that of other school systems.
yet this boy still slid through the cracks due to his culture. It chilled me to think about. As responsive classroom teaches, every human being needs to be understood to feel human. We never opened up and understood this boy.
It's horrifying to think about and overwhelming to realize the tall order this gives to educators. As Nelson Mandella said, education will change the world. To do so though, we need to make sure we are educating everyone in the manner they deserve.
I also want to state that I am just repeating what I heard on Saturday and trying to process it myself. I am not blaming my county, teachers, or anyone else but the young man for the shootings. I do not know all the facts, and am repeating what I heard. I am just wondering via my blog where our role in all this lies.
A good friend of mine in college was scheduled to take his drivers test on his 21st birthday. He was from India and was excited to be able to finally legally drive in the US. however, being his 21st birthday, he started drinking at midnight the night before and had not sobered up by the time he needed to take the test. Believing he was sober, he went to the small country town's DMV. He passed. For the first time in this small town the racism he frequently experienced worked to his benefit. The dmv employee assumed his odd behavior was because he was Indian, not because he was still intoxicated.