Yesterday Ben (9), in a fit of melancholy induced by many dramas, announced that, on top of it all, his teacher had taken his handball off him. Ever one to leap to my children's defence, I asked him what he'd done to get her to confiscate it. He'd been tossing it in his hands while the teacher was talking. Well, no freaking wonder, thinks I. I explain to him that pretty much all teachers are going to think that tossing a ball around in the classroom is extremely rude. Ben has some difficulty understanding why, since he was listening more carefully than usual while he's tossing the ball around.
This kinda throws up a red flag. Lots of kids listen and think better when they've got something to occupy their hands - particularly kids with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. This doesn't apply to Ben, but it's a perfect example of why considering the needs of kids (or indeed adults) with disabilities is actually about accepting diversity generally. It's not some grand gesture made out of the goodness of the heart, it makes the world a better place for everyone, regardless of whether or not they currently fit the category of having a disability.
What this teacher should have done, was ask Ben why he was playing with the ball. She should have considered that he may listen better if his hands are occupied, and offered more appropriate options that don't distract the other kids (because tossing a ball in the classroom is always a Bad Idea)*. She should have considered that not everyone is the same. Of course, almost no teachers would do that. Most think of accommodations for kids with special needs as a separate category, that they only need think about when someone hands them a file explaining a child's diagnosed situation. We really need to change this.
This was no big deal for Ben, we discussed it, we discussed other options for keeping his hands busy, and today he apologised to his teacher and asked for his ball, which was returned. However, if Ben had been a child with undiagnosed ADHD or Aspergers, or a kid who doesn't fit any boxes so doesn't get the "protection" of a diagnosis, this could have been a Very Big Deal Indeed. Teachers (and all of us) need to consider diversity all the time, not just when a kid is stamped and approved for special assistance.
Last year, I did an assignment about what I'd learned about teaching, as a result of having a child diagnosed with Aspergers. In the assignment, I quoted the blog post I wrote the day after he was diagnosed. To bring the whole incestuous thing full circle, the video that constituted the "physical" part of the assignment is below. The take home message, though, is that what I learned is that we need to understand kids, not just manage their behaviour, and that this is true of all kids, not just ones with labels. And, perhaps more importantly, this is actually the easier path. Working with a kid is a lot easier than working against them, even if it involves a steep learning curve when you first meet them in your class.
It needs to be said that I understand teachers already have too much to do, and I think some serious changes need to be made to give teachers more time to do all the things they need to do, but that's a rant for another day. In the meantime, any steps we can take in this direction will help.
* This conversation need not have happened at the time she took the ball, it could have happened in a quiet moment later.