I don’t consider to myself as an artistic person, I leave that up to my children, and any creativity I do possess, is certainly buried under my lists of things to get done and facts to collect. But, lately I have realized how much art has crept into my work, as I engage in the practice of taking the whole and whittle it away to its most important parts. Not one that works with wood and a knife (for that would not turn out well) but a whittler nonetheless.
Taking our current educational system and discovering how to break that down into a set of skills and concepts that supports our students who struggle to learn is just that- it is whittling. We take the whole wood block and we cut, and scrape and we look at what is working and what is not, and then cut and scrape some more, often changing the angle, and always being guided by what is uniquely intrinsic to the child, until we have a creation that is unique.
No attempt comes out the same and the one before or after, even if we use identical blocks, and knives, and that is OK because they all turn out as they were intended, even the ones that look completely different than we imagined.
Whittling challenges us to take the whole and take away the parts that are unneeded in order to release the core, central idea. This is exactly what the process of providing supportive bridges to students to struggle to learn does. The taking of the whole and scraping down to the specific need and then figuring out how to make that visible to others is an ongoing need in supporting all kids. Recognizing that their end product will look different than any other, but that it will be uniquely theirs and innately beautiful is the reward at the end of the challenge. So pick up your wood block and your knife and get started. I can’t wait to see what you create.
In our society, and certainly within the realm of Special Education circles, we have a rush to label things. Labels can be good. They can help us recognize things, know about what to expect, maybe, and help us to plan. They are intended to clarify, to develop understanding, to support, can even help us to identify trends and patterns and develop new understandings.
But what happens when they don’t? What happens when the labels that we count on for clarification actually become a deterrent or a limitation? What happens when labels are used to prevent access, opportunity, and even determine the places where people have a right to be?
This is not a new idea. We can all cite plenty of times in the history of our society that this has occurred. And the sad truth is that it is likely that the future will be full of more such instances. But for now, one of the places we find this living large is in the Special Education experience, where even something as simple as a support has be qualified as an accommodation or a modification.
Now, I am not denying that a support, or perhaps many supports might be needed, or even that in their design, delivery, and intent needs to be clarified but that, in reality, is best determined through discussion and not through a labelling. The affixation of a label, in this case, makes a determination about what the need for this type of support means and makes a pre-determination about what might be possible, and no single word or category should ever do that.
So instead of taking precious time to define what a support means, let’s skip to agreeing what is needed, how it is going to be provided, and then have confidence that when provided correctly, they will lead to a path of possibility that could not have been found without it having been in place. If we could get to that place, for all kids, then I could label that as a successful step forward.
Through our recent experiences with Distance Learning, we have all had to experience being placed in roles we had not been in before. Along this journey it is inevitable that we will find people with whom we disagree. Even more common are those that we get used to and perhaps, even, take for granted.
The reality, though, is that none of us can be everything, and everyone we come in contact with teaches us something, if we are open to listening. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. When thinking about events that led to the place where we are, there are certainly experiences I think I would have liked to have changed. But then I remember, the place we are, as a is a good place. It may not be the end game but it is a step along the road and if I changed any of those interactions we might not be in the place we stand, today, which will lead us to where we hope to go.
So, today, instead of hoping things are different, and being ready to rush back to what we knew, let’s turn that around and think about those individuals who have been part of the experience that led us to where we are. Who are the people you appreciate, maybe now more than ever?
This unexpected time has offered us many things: change, anxiety, lack of time, hope, knowledge, learning, confusion, information, and room to grow (feel free to insert other things in the comments- this is just a short list).
One of the things that I appreciate is that it is offering me an opportunity to get to know how my kids learn better. The truth is- no matter how much I knew before, (and if you have read my Author Bio you know I am a collector of facts so I have years of tidbits to how to support those who struggle to learn) seeing the day’s ins and outs, at the level I am seeing them as the days transition into each other is offering me insight on a level I never could have seen before. Now I can see, first-hand, how each of my kids responds differently to Language Arts vs Math, how they can or cannot self- monitor, what motivates them to be able to do just a little bit more, how they respond to expectations for independence, and what support they need to achieve higher levels than the day before.
There are many out there that say we will never have this time again (let’s go with that) but having had it, I am changed. The way I think about what my kids are able to do has forever changed on so many levels but what stands out the most is adaptability. I have learned that each of us is more adaptable than we ever thought possible because we have faced that which we could not have imagined.
Whether or not things go back to the way before, or maybe a better version with pieces of both, I hope you take those insights with you- that you use them to better understand what supports your child needs from those that are just nice to have, and that you are able to find ways to ensure those abilities are honored and those supports are received. Wishing you all the best.- K
I don’t know about you but it seems as if the number of days that go by where it feels like a lot of energy is going out but not a lot is coming back to replenish it. At least, in big way. But- in looking deeper- the opportunities are there- they just might be a little more difficult to see.
Because inspiration can come from anything, really. And the smaller we look, the more we can find. Of course, it would be great to have those inspiring moments be loud and large so that we couldn’t help but notice them. But life- especially life with people with working memory challenges doesn’t always work that way.
So it won’t always be a 17-year old who is learning to read for the first time, or a 15- year old who is being given to a communication system that is unlocking all that he has to say. But it could be. And if you need some of those big shining moments to get you through just know that both of those are true, and have happened with people I know, in the very recent past. If you need more of these brightly shining moments then reach out, and I will share as many stories as you need.
But if not- if a smaller moment of beauty is enough to light you from a darker place then take those, my friends, and hold on tightly to every opportunity to be inspired that comes your way. For as bright as the big stories of release of ability through first opportunity are, there is also nothing more beautiful that our kids looking up at us and smiling bright….a contagious belly laugh that makes your sides hurt…the sprout of a random plant when you have no idea how it got there….the sun streaming through the clouds… or a look between those who are connected over a random idea that might just change the path forward.
So hold tight- to those large stories, yes, but also to those smaller moments of beauty- those opportunities to connect with another person in a new or favorite way, and share them all to remind ourselves, and each other, of the inspiration that can be found all around us.
I am sure it will come as no surprise to any of you that life can be hard. That said, I hope that each of us can identify, at least, one person that makes it easier. That person that is able to shine the light in the dark places for us, when we cannot find them ourselves.
We all deserve that, and I have even given sessions on that very topic to session participants on how to identify and “collect” those people for our kids and our families. Yet, sometimes, in seeking the light for others, we can let it slip our minds, that we have the opportunity to be that light for others as well.
Who is it in your life that could use a little light shined in the dark spaces? How can we shine our own lights, however dim they may feel, in a way that allows it to brighten the day of someone who may not need it, even if we don’t know who that person is.
The good news is- I don’t think there is anything we actually need to do. By living our authentic selves, and living our lives as big as we feel comfortable living it and having opportunities to do that, we shine. And what shines attracts others and they will find the light they need, maybe without us even knowing it. And that is a beautiful thing.
Keep shining, my friends. The world needs your light as much as we sometimes need it from others.
All around me there is excitement about a “return to normal”. It could be easy to get caught up in the excitement that this crazy experiment, the first in our life-time of its kind, might be nearing an end. Yet- I find myself hesitating.
How can that be?- A return to “normal”, means a possible return to time alone? A return to “normal”, means a possible return to time for self- care! A return to “normal”, means a possible return to time for things that have been on my To—Do list for over a year! A return to “normal”, means a possible return to having time for even thinking about what I could do with more time!! Yet- I hesitate.
I have been thinking a lot about that hesitation lately and I think it comes to this: I might want a “closer to normal” but I am not sure I want to go back to just what we had before. Going “Back to Normal” feels like going backwards. It makes it feel like the past year+ hasn’t actually happened and though it has been hard, and not what I ever would have wished for, there were some things that were pretty great.
A few years ago we had a chance to move back to the place we had left to live in to Northern California. We had loved living there. Yet- we hesitated. In the end we decided not to make that move because it felt as though it would have been too easy to revert back to a life that we had lived 5 years before.
Though it was tempting, we couldn’t ignore that those 5 years changed us. We learned, we grew, we matured (I hope we did at least- but not too much!), we were not the same version of ourselves that had left the city we loved. We acknowledged that there were things that we missed- things we hoped to regain- but a complete reversal was not what we wanted. So we chose a different location, close to, but not in the same path as before.
Similarly this last year+ has offered many unexpected things. Some of those have not been so great but, if I am honest, some of them have been unexpectedly wonderful, or at least unexpectedly insightful, and I am not sure that I am willing to lose those in a quest for perceived normalcy. For we learned, we grew, we matured (I hope we did at least- but not too much!), we are not the same version of ourselves that started this different version of the life we are living.
With that in mind, instead of wishing you a “Return to Normal” I wish you all chances to find your “Chosen Tomorrow” and options to find ways to bring the unexpected beauties, of the recent past, into the new version of the furture we all have the chance to create.
Through a variety of experiences I have come to believe that people can make anything look good on paper. The mere fact that it is written, does not guarantee that it represents what is actually occurring. I have learned this through perusing countless IEP’s and professional program flyers. No matter the document, whether these are well written or poorly written, have colorful photos or none at all- one thing is consistent: No matter what is written on that paper, a program is only as good as it is in reaching the unique needs of the individual which it serves.
I believe the same thing can be applied to research. If you have looked at my Bio, you know I am an a self- professed information junkie. I collect information, about all topics, and I love when it can be synthesized with what I already may know. In short, I have looked at a lot of research in my unending quest for information.
When we look back on the history of research pointing towards abilities or inabilities of people with Down syndrome and other working memory challenges, we have to acknowledge that the picture it paints is less than rosy, at times. The information that we come across may even prevent us from creating a foundation that allows us to believe in positive possibilities for our child’s or student’s future. Yet time after time, we have opportunities to come in contact with families, educators or individuals with disabilities themselves, who were able to overcome whatever it was that was written on paper and achieve goals that far surpass what anyone ever thought possible before they had an opportunity to do so.
To some extent, research is a product of what you believe you will find. Not that there are not opportunities where research has been conducted that find different than expected results. There are and they have to be acknowledged. However, research has its own systemic barriers, often delayed by many years from the onset of theory to publication, it cannot take into account all of the many factors that make a person who they are, that allow for them to experience the world, or to understand what is possible when the correct supports are in place.
Life happens quickly, change does not, and we do not really have time for the research to catch up. So I give you this challenge: We can’t ignore that research says what it says, and it will be interpreted the way it is interpreted, but what we can do is look what research gives us as a floor rather than a ceiling.
Instead of believing that the research shows us the enormity of what is possible, we can instead look at it as an entry point. When we look at research in this capacity it helps us to develop a platform of understanding towards what might be needed in order to reach the minimum of what might be possible, and allows us to continue to dream big and look forward to being part of new paradigms. If we look at research through this lens, that is something I can get behind, no matter how it is written.
Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a Person-centered Planning meeting for my son. When I think about this meeting I can tell you that it was one of the most powerful meetings of my life, thus far. Now- if you know me, you know I don’t say things like that lightly. If you do not know me yet, you will have to take me at my word, or ask someone who does. When I reflected on this life- changing opportunity I realized it for what it was, for my son, of course, but also for what it can mean for us all.
I have always lived with high expectations, for myself, for others, and certainly for my children, including my son with Down syndrome. So I always believed in his potential but, if I am truthful, I never was able to see it in laid out in front of me. The expectations for his future were there, but knowing how we were going to get there from where we are now was always a question. In short, I knew it would happen I just wasn’t sure how. That not knowing could lead to moments of uncertainty, to moments of feeling shaken from my beliefs, no matter how firm, to moments of doubt, and to moments filled with questions about whether or not we were on the right track.
What I learned from this experience is my version of the The Power of Purpose. Because what I realized is that when you start from where you are, it is easy to get sidetracked, to be shaken and to shift off track based on things that come along on the way. Life is full of unexpected distractions and when you don’t know where you are going, they can more easily get in the way of reaching the destination.
But when you have Purpose, when you know what your destination is, of course distractions in life are still going to happen, but when you have a path in front of you on which to focus, it can make it more difficult to be veered off the path that gets you to where you want to be.
You might momentarily stop and regroup, or take a pause, or you might decide to temporarily go in another direction to see how that works. All of that is part of life. But when you know what your endgame is you can consistently focus on the things that are working to help you get there, rather than starting and restarting, and starting and changing, and starting and restarting again. You have an actual opportunity to build momentum- to take clear strides towards reaching that Purpose, and that, in itself, has Power.
So it does not have to be a Person-centered Planning Meeting, though I now think they should occur not only for people with disabilities, but for ALL kids. If you have the opportunity to engage in one, I definitely encourage you to consider doing so. But if not, all is not lost- you can create your own. Take a moment to talk with trusted individuals who know about the person for whom you’re thinking, ask key questions about who this person is and what makes them unique. Take some time to figure out what the end game might be and come up with a plan.
The Power of taking this time now to figure out what a possible future might look like is incredibly empowering, not only for you but potentially for the person for whom you are doing this planning. Of course the endgame may change as time goes on, but this is true for all of us, and if it’s an intentional change then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But when it’s a change that happens from a shift off the path that stemmed a from a lack of direction, that can potentially serve as not only a barrier, but a roadblock to reaching the place on the path where a person’s Purpose lies. And that shift, my friends, is a missed opportunity, not only for the person, but for all of us who might benefit from the Power of what each of our Purposes are, and this robs each one of us of the future that could be.
Earlier this month my friend Tim Villegas, another educator who is dedicated to furthering systems of inclusion, put a post on FB where he asked the question “Why do you support inclusive education?
He received many, many terrific answers and I was thrilled that mine was deemed worthy of being one in that amazing list. Here is what I said:
So many reasons but let’s go with-we never know what someone is capable of until they have an opportunity to show it.
Oh, wait- how about because you can’t get to the same place in The same way by taking a different path.
Or because we know that if we took the same person and filled their lives with enriching experiences they would be changed far beyond a life where they had none.
How many responses do I get?
And I left it at that. But I realized later, that though each of those answers was true- none of them captured the piece that keeps me going- the piece that reminds me, daily- that what is sometimes so incredibly hard, is not really a choice for me at all. Because we believe, as a family, that it is up to us to leave the world better than we found it.
To understand how this allows me to do that you would have to know that upon our post- natal diagnosis of Down syndrome for Sevi, I was lost. So incredibly lost. I looked down at this newborn baby, who my whole heart loved, and I could not see the any future of possibility, for him or for our family. I certainly was not in a head- space to be able to look beyond the tiny corner of the world where we existed.
And then time passed, and as it did I learned, and as I learned, I watched. I watched this baby who so many would judge by his face, and began to see those who didn’t. I saw those that looked a few moments longer than one would expect, and I didn’t see judgment, as often as I expected.
Instead, I began to see curiosity and I saw connection. And as he grew, and I learned and saw more, I came to realize, through a few chance interactions, that I will never know the reach of my son’s impact on the world.
Because I will never know of all those people who know him today, who may find themselves as a future parent, or a future sibling, or a future aunt, or uncle, or grandparent of a person with Down syndrome. I will never know which one of those who knows Sevi today, will be a future friend, or neighbor, or in a position to employ a person with Ds, whose perspective will be forever changed, for good, because they knew, truly knew Sevi, and realized that having Down syndrome does not define him.
To use his words- they will know that having Down syndrome is no big deal- once you understand it. Knowing him may change their perspective, and thus change not only their story, but the story for another future baby with Down syndrome, and that, is a future that I can get behind, each and every day.
Kristin Enriquez has dedicated her life's work to children with learning challenges and helping people work together to realize each student's potential. She is the proud mother of 4 children, one of which has Down syndrome. She is not an experienced blogger, or a professional website creator, but she does "tell it like it is," is a collector of facts, and loves sharing the amazing experiences and knowledge that have found her along the way,