Sunday, March 25, 2012

1994 From Dependence to Independence (Part 2)

This second part of Mom's story contains some good details on the year she spent at the local Crippled Children Hospital and School. The story was likely written in 1994, for one of Mom's writing classes. The overall message of the story is including children with disabilities in regular classrooms. Part 1 is here.

Mentioned in this story is a visit the school received from Hall of Fame baseball pitcher and Cleveland Indian Bob Feller. The photo is from a 2010 trip to the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa.

The summer that I was to turn 13 and entered the eighth grade, I had surgery on both feet to correct a deformity that was still there from childhood. This could not be corrected earlier as any surgery done on my limbs too early in growth development would stop growth in that area. About this same time, the curvature in my spine had become more apparent, so my back was casted. This took most of the summer so when school started, I was still in a wheelchair and was unable to attend school because of all the stairs.

The school I finally attended that year was called The Crippled Children Hospital and School (CCHS). I stayed there during the week and came home on weekends. This was the first time away from home without any of my family. There were some kids there from across the state. Some from so far that they could only go home on holidays or long vacations. I met many interesting people there. I really had to sort out some feelings of my own. Never had I been put into a situation with kids so much worse off than myself physically. Part of me didn't want to be with them because then I felt like them, and I didn't want to feel like them. I wanted to feel "normal," whatever that was.

We did a number of interesting things at school, many of which I hadn't done before or since. We went bowling at a nearby bowling alley, we played wheelchair basketball, baseball and tennis. We learned to score all these games. We had a wheelchair square dance group, for which I was a substitute, cause by that time, I was no longer in a wheelchair. We had visits from famous people. One I remember was a visit from Bob Feller, a famous baseball pitcher, who gave encouragement and excitement to everyone there.

We had our regular classes in the morning. Here I feel that the school let me down. I do not feel that I was challenged academically. The pace was slow. Maybe it was just me as I was used to the fast pace of the regular kids. I was glad that I only went one year, so that I didn't fall too far behind my old classmates. Looking back, I did benefit from the exposure to all those new things. Like I said, it was the first time that I was really exposed to these "kinds" of kids that were far worse off physically than myself. Over the years, I have kept in touch with some of them and I still feel fortunate.

I remember many of these kids became very homesick. The rigorous exercise programs each student was involved in took its toll on the desire and the will to learn. Many of them came from households where they were waited on hand and foot by well-meaning families and not encouraged to do things on their own. The result was that the child came back from a vacation at home and all the exercises needed to be re-learned.

Don't get me wrong, these schools were certainly better than nothing; and since public schools were not built for wheelchairs, there had to be a compromise. The worst problem was that it segregated these kids. A whole generation of people grew up not needing or wanting to think of working with or socializing with disabled people. This is basically the generation that is running things today.

The emphasis has now focused on keeping the child at home. According to Lore Baur, who is both a parent of a disabled child and a teacher in the Iowa City School District with disabled children in her class, there are many exercise and education programs started in the home as early intervention, sometimes at a very early age. A particularly good agency here in this area is the Grantwood Area Education Agency. This agency helps both the parents and the child adjust to the situation. With this whole-family approach the child adjusts quite well to mainstreaming into the regular classroom. He or she can then pick up as much as possible from the other kids. Each child has his or her own aid who helps in the classroom with the use of picture boards, with the fine motor skills, or whatever is needed for that particular child. When extra help is needed, he or she gets it from another source; the special teachers who make regular rounds of the classrooms where their students are. There are regular physical therapy sessions, many of which involve the parents. With this whole-family approach most students do quite well. The child is passed from grade to grade with the use of IEP (Individual Evaluation Profile). Here everyone involved with the child's education, therapists, aides, teachers, parents, etc., meet to evaluate the child's growth.

Along with this shift of the pendulum is the new attitude of the educators. When I first started school, it was only expected that I learn to read and write. That was not much for a goal. So when they started the special schools, the educators said to keep the disabled kids separate so they wouldn't slow everyone down. This attitude was said quite strongly in a fairly recent article titled, "Where We Stand," by Mr. Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in the New York Times. He said "It is too disruptive to have these kids in the classroom." (14A)

A frequent aim of "inclusion" or "mainstreaming" advocates is that the student with disabilities be treated and perceived as a "member" of the general education class rather than as a "visitor" (Least Restrictive 1). Not only can they keep up academically, but many times they are a good influence on the rest of the kids. With many of the physical barriers now being corrected a lot of these kids get along quite well on their own.

Kids that are able to learn but unable to go to public schools due to physical access - stairs, wider doors, places to sit, unsafe furniture, or due to text books that a blind person can't read or extra help needed for a deaf or hard of hearing student - are being barred from many schools. I believe this can be traced back to the early 1900s, when no one bothered to educate these kids. At that time, it was considered a curse to have such a child and they were hidden from the public either in the home or in an institution.

If a family could afford it, a private tutor could be hired and progress was often seen, as in the well known case of Helen Keller. Most often this kind of thing was never attempted. If you couldn't walk, it was assumed that you couldn't see, hear, or talk either, much less have a brain and be able to think. All of these assumptions are untrue, of course, as has been proven time and time again - with the proper education.

Part three of 1994 From Dependence to Independence

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