Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A hand to hold

Yesterday Ben and I visited his new high school. It’s a large regular high school known for academics and sports. It has a unit for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They take some of their classes on the unit and are mainstreamed with interpreters for others.

Ben and I had a tour with the principal. Ben saw some classes and took the opportunity to sit down at desks as we were doing a lot of walking!

The principal and I are wading into uncharted territory as this school would not typically support a student with Ben’s disabilities.

My message was that I simply want a better education for my son. My goals are that he improve his reading, keyboarding and numeracy, have access to some general curriculum, and have the opportunity to make friends, learn social norms and have a sense of belonging (the latter is a tall order, I know).

They don't really have a plan in place for how they will support Ben. They are scrambling this week now that teachers and board staff are back from holidays. I am grateful that they are willing to meet with an inclusion expert to get some advice.

Ben liked the idea of a new school once he was there.

After our visit Ben and I went for a treat at McDonald's. We had such a nice time sitting side by side and eating our burgers (I even enjoyed my cheeseburger). Ben was thrilled because I let him get his coke.

After we went to the dollar store where Ben got a ladybug character. He was demanding that we come up with a name for it last night, but I'm hoping that with his new writing skills he can make up a name himself. I was able to get him to write ‘I love Jessie’ -- with reference to the cowgirl -- with one spelling mistake.

As we walked along the street I sometimes took his hand as it's easier for him to walk with support as he still limps with the leg-length difference caused by the surgery. But after a minute or two he would always take his hand away.

Later that day I was racing home from work when I saw a handful of people walking together on the sidewalk. I recognized right away that they were adults with developmental disabilities and their workers. One adult was walking very slowly with her head down and her hand in a worker’s hand. She wasn't being pulled along or told to hurry up. She was allowed to walk at her own pace. I stopped to watch this slow moving band of people in the midst of the typical city frenzy.

I couldn't help thinking: ‘I hope Ben always has a hand to hold like that, even if it's not mine.’


Is it possible to set up a buddy system for Ben? I taught deaf kids at a school like the one you're describing, and it can be overwhelming. Can one of the deaf students (or a hearing student who signs) be buddied up with him, to help him through the rough spots and to be his friend? Does the school offer ASL classes to hearing kids? Often, those classes attract kids who are kind and want to help others. Sometimes the deaf kids have their own issues and need to prove that they aren't disabled to the hearing kids, so might be less likely to pal with Ben.

I am excited (and a bit nervous!) for Ben and for you as he embarks on this adventure. I am glad that you're keeping us posted -- and your image of hand-holding forever is a beautiful one.

Thanks for your message!

Yes, we are trying to set up some mentors for Ben who will be a bridge to the other students.

And when I met the principal yesterday he asked if Ben would like to take a sign language class -- which I thought would be great. I'm not sure if those classes have kids with and without disabilities or not.

Thanks for the suggestions and heads-up.

Hi Louise,

Two thoughts.

First, with regards to Ben's walking. I think you may want to consider letting him use his walker or a crutch when going to school. This way, he won't tire as much and he'll be ten times as fast --God knows, "I wouldn't be able to catch him!" This may also be a better way to counter-balance his limp and a great form of exercise.

For, I too hope that Ben always has a hand to hold, even if it isn't yours or mine, but just maybe we can give him the gift of holding it less often?

Second, I think I know how to improve Ben's writing skills. For instance, take a piece of paper and write a sentence. Use sign language to tell him what you're writing. Then, allow Ben to copy that same sentence by hand, as this exercise will not only enable him to learn at his own pace, but should improve memory function. Afterwords, allow him to type it on the computer --I'm willing to bet, "He'll type as we've never seen before." In fact, I think that I should do this with him!