Thursday, May 19, 2011

Special Needs Children: Developmentally Disabled: Small victories

I work with severely multiply impaired children ages 3-6.   Like many of us in this field I came into special education with a lot of big ideas. I was going to change their world. Very quickly I realized that it would not happen over night. And I would need to embrace the small victories to keep from feeling like a failure. Soon after I realized that would be enough for me.

One of my students has a whole host of impairments.   Most notably Cerebral Palsy and the affects of a severe form of Encephalitis. At four years old he still has the cognitive functions of that of a newborn. He rarely fussed or cried and for the most part lay limp, staring at the ceiling. I’ve worked hard over the past year just to get any kind of reaction out of him. Some sign that he was in there and that he wanted to be a part of this world.

One day while playing with a tambourine for the whole class I noticed some movement from him out of the corner of my eye. I continued to play moving slowly in his direction when suddenly it happened again. There, his right arm had moved up and down. 

Unsure if it was just a reflex I quit playing and he did nothing. I would start and stop for the next ten minutes and nothing happened. It must have been a involuntary contraction or just my imagination. Not wanting to give up, the next day I began experimenting with him using a whole host of musical instruments. At intervals throughout the day I would pick up some sort of instrument and play it while standing by him. Occasionally I would get the mysterious arm movements but not consistent enough to believe that it was any conscious effort. 

Finally at the end of the day I went for my ace in the hole which was a toy I had put together that consisted of outdoor brass chimes that hung from a saw horse type device. I placed him on the floor and put the toy over him and gently ran my fingers through the chimes. He immediately reacted to the twinkling music. His right arm began to move. I just knew that we finally had something.
The next morning I placed him on the ground again and put the chimes over him. Slowly I ran his right hand through them letting him process the fact that he was making the music. Before too long he was helping me but soon he tired and I let him be for the day.
The next morning he was placed on the floor again. While I worked with other students I noticed his right arm moving back and forth. He began to kick his legs in what seemed like frustration. I realized that I had gotten through. He wanted the chimes again. It was one of the proudest moments I've had as an educator.

Before too long he was signaling for everything with his right arm. And his hard working mother had taught him to use his left for no. It didn't happen overnight but once we knew he could do it we had the confidence to push him to succeed. To the outside world it would seem like a small victory but to us it could be the sweetest victory of all.
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