This morning I found myself in the hallway with one of my friends with special needs. We had a series of colors against the wall and were holding a ball. Whenever I showed her a color she'd throw the ball toward the matching color. And we'd celebrate. Jump, giggle, high-five, Whoo-Whoo it up until the other teachers looked at me strangely and I'm sure we were disrupting classes up and down the hallway. I realize I appeared like I'd lost my marbles- celebrating a child matching colors- and celebrating the match every single time... as though my child just discovered how to correctly perform brain surgery.
but matching- it's baby steps- and if we can train the brain to match like objects the brain will start making connections and observations about those objects in order to get ready for identifying objects, labeling, and selecting those objects.
I find myself using the phrase baby steps a lot... especially when I'm reassuring my teachers (and myself) that our kids are making progress. It may not be the progress we'd like to see, and sometimes it's not even progress we can see, but it's there- and eventually each little step will build on top of the other and (hopefully) our students will begin walking on our own.
There's a delicate balance when working with children with special needs because while you need to be aware of their disabilities you never want to underestimate their abilities. You don't want to forget what is considered to be on grade level. Just because a child reaches his IEP goals doesn't mean you can sit back- the ultimate fight is to get as close as possible to achieving grade level work. Inclusion helps keep this in perspective because we are able to work with children on grade level as well, never forgetting where the final destination lays.
But on the other hand, you don't want to get so caught up in the vast difference between the child's work and grade level work that you get discouraged, or you overlook the child's accomplishments because they are so far from that final goal. Sometimes when we focus on the final outcome we forget to break tasks down into smaller parts. When this happens we're not making the task manageable for the child. (This of course leaves everyone frustrated, but our tooth grinding keeps our dentists in business, and our drinking habits help out the local liquor store...)
Our balance comes from carefully taking the big projects and breaking them into tiny pieces- giving us a plan for how we'll one day, slowly but surely, make it to the end.
However, there are days when I feel like anyone watching me celebrate those baby steps must think I am off my rocker. The large amounts of praise I give for a student identifying first letter in her name- or the praise I gave to a student who was able to work by himself for 7 minutes today. 7 minutes. But tomorrow, we're going for 8. And eventually we're going to hit 20.
I have a fairly new friend that is truly pushing me to fully embrace my celebration of baby steps. She's been diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability (ID is the new MR for those of you not up on your politically correct special ed terms). We've broken down all of those broad goals for her into tiny little steps, and even then we realize we're far from reaching those steps without many smaller steps along the way.
And so, we spent the morning in the hallway bowling away in order to match our colors. But although all I was expecting her to do was throw the ball at the matching color, at one point she saw the color green and in a moment of happiness called out "green!"
She could have been saying again. Or grunting. Or just playing with me. But it sure sounded like green. And spontaneous speech? Not something we normally use during daily academics. The mere fact that she saw a color and identified it with a name- she showed an understanding that objects have names- green can be a color AND a name.
And so we celebrate the tiny steps. And dance, and giggle, and play so that the more excited, relaxed, and engaged we are, the more the brain will keep making those connections so that tomorrow we'll be able to push just a little bit further.