BELIEVE! No One Can Know the Limitations of Another

We are in the process of formalizing a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder with secondary Anxiety Disorder (at-risk for depression) for my “gifted” 9-year-old daughter. For me, this process began more than 2 years ago, brought to light by the abusive treatment she suffered at the hands of her 2nd grade teacher who drove her to tears and embarrassed her in front of her classmates on a daily basis. In the last 6 months, the intensity of addressing her difficulties has stepped up significantly and has involved her 4th grade teacher working with our private counselor to help pinpoint the problem and identify the specific areas where my daughter needs support. Sadly, in the midst of all this trying, we discovered, once again, that inappropriate treatment had been is being perpetrated against my daughter by the very teacher helping us. Treatment that can only be categorized as the bullying of a child with a disability BY THE TEACHER!  Addressed head-on with the teacher, hubby and I decided that it was serious enough to warrant a visit with the school psychologist to formally bring it to the attention of the school….No action necessary at this time since we’d addressed it directly with the teacher but we wanted it to be part of the record, lest it should happen again. After explaining exactly what had transpired (another post, because this one is about the disturbing statement I’m about to lay on you all) and communicating that, although she apologized, the teacher involved my daughters’ classmates in the bullying thereby sanctioning such behavior for the other 20 children in the classroom, I said to the Psychologist, “if a teacher cannot deal effectively with my daughter and her attention deficit issues, what’s going to happen when my boys get here and are included in the general education setting? Statistically, my boys are more likely to be bullied and, because of their verbal apraxia, less likely to be able to communicate such abuse to me. How am I supposed to feel comfortable sending them to a school where teachers abuse and bully those with disabilities in front of their peers?” (Reminder: my boys are identical twins with Down syndrome.) 

Are you ready for it? Here’s the statement that blew my mind! The school psychologist’s response to my concern was:

Interestingly, it’s harder for folks to accept that your daughter, who is clearly intellectually gifted, can’t control her ability to attend to tasks because she is so bright. But your sons will be more easily accepted because of their diagnosis of Down syndrome. People won’t have the same expectations for your boys as they do for your daughter.

Anyone else find this statement INCREDIBLY DISTURBING and INAPPROPRIATE?

Did you hear the spoken and unspoken insult to my sons like I did? OH, I see, so never having met my sons, you’ve already made the assumption that they’re intellectually subpar and you ALREADY have reduced expectations for their academic/intellectual achievement! NEVER HAVING MET THEM AND ONLY BECAUSE OF THEIR DIAGNOSIS!

My response was, “That’s a problem! You just lowered your expectations of what they can achieve based on their diagnosis?”

This limitations-based thinking fosters the dumbing down of their education with reduced expectations which translates to reduced achievement. Research shows that children with special needs achieve more (academically, emotionally and psychologically) when educated side-by-side with their typical peers… Because humans are peer-driven pack animals… especially children! They see what’s expected of their peers and rise — to the best of their ability — to the occasion. Will they achieve all that their typically-developing peers do? Maybe! Maybe not! Not for me to say! But I believe and am happily looking forward to finding out what my children can achieve!

Predisposal toward decreased expectations as a function of a diagnosis is deadly for our children’s success. Think of all the negative and too-often-incorrect stereotypes that come along with any one of our children’s diagnoses. Whether ADHD, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome or any other special need;  Imagine if those responsible for teaching your child automatically believed those stereotypes and automatically lowered their expectations of what your child was capable of achieving before ever having met your child!

This is 1920-style institution-thinking! We might as well just push them aside or lock them up if we can’t teach them x, y or z! A teacher cannot effectively teach anything if they believe the student is not capable of learning it! What sort of effort would you put forth to teach your dog to read? A teacher’s predisposed notion of limitations is detrimental to their students’ success. If they do not believe in the possibilities then there will be no effort… and no hope! As parents, we need to break down the stereotypes and dispel the limiting beliefs tied to our children’s diagnoses so we can build an environment conducive to teaching, learning and building independence and a better tomorrow for our children. We need to believe! And then we need to teach our educators to believe!

For years now, this has been my mantra and I see now that I’ll have to step up my efforts in instilling this in those who can influence the education of my children: 

BELIEVE! No one can know the limitations of another!

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P.S. Sorry I was MIA last week. My beloved Dad passed away and his services were held over the weekend. 

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