Compliance – no, not the legal kind – the kind that is expected of our children with disabilities. I feel that the level of compliance expected in our school systems for our children with disabilities goes well beyond what is expected of non-disabled students.

One of my children is in gifted educational programs. He is rewarded for, and actually expected to demonstrate critical thinking, creativity, and questioning that which is considered the norm. If he doesn’t fully investigate a subject, view it with a critical eye, and then develop a conclusion based on creative thinking his grades reflect that. However, if he questions traditional thought and is innovative with his conclusions, he is rewarded with a good grade.

On the other hand, my child with a significant disability is not allowed to explore her classroom assignments in the same way.


My child with the most significant disabilities is expected to be compliant. Learning the rules of general society and practicing those rules at all times earns that child the best grade. If she turns the puzzle upside down because it helps her to solve it faster, she is corrected and told that the puzzle must be oriented correctly.

If she questions the value of putting pegs in holes by pushing the task aside and trying to get out of her seat, she is being ‘difficult’.

The daily notes that come home more often than not say she had a bad day because she wouldn’t ‘cooperate’ and follow instructions.

If she complains by sitting down when she doesn’t understand the value of walking around the track four times while holding an adult’s hand, she is not ‘participating with her peers’.

If she would prefer to look at the large snow globe on the library shelves and try to figure out what makes the ‘snow’ float, she is ‘not using her time wisely’.

Just the other day, my daughter’s teacher complained because my child was running in the halls of the school. I understand running is not a good thing, but this was an event that should have been celebrated. Doctors always told me that my daughter would not walk. They were wrong of course, because she did finally start walking when she was five years old. So the fact that she actually RAN was a very significant event!

I am not saying that children with disabilities should not be expected to follow rules, especially in the classroom. Rules which involve the safety of my child, other children and the teaching staff must be followed.

My child’s creative thinking processes and actions should not offend or in anyway bother the learning process for other children. In fact, I expect all my children to use their manners and be polite and respectful of others.

But, should my youngest child take great pleasure in devising a colorful pattern of legos stuck in the honeycomb structure of the child safety gate at our patio door, I refuse to tell her that legos aren’t supposed to go into the gate. I will continue to encourage all my children to be creative, responsible people who don’t let traditional constraints stifle them.

The conundrum for me is why special education teachers and administrative staff seem to have low expectations for the academic achievements of our children with significant disabilities but have very high expectations for compliance in those same children.

Deborah can be found writing here at 5MFSN every Wednesday, and can also be found at Pipecleaner Dreams.

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