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Please Assume My Child With a Disability Is Competent

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Please presume competence for my child with a disability!

Teacher often have a vision that in a perfect world they will teach a subject, give a test and students will be able to score well on that test. They do an action and get a reward. If they teach well, the students will score well, and their success is immediate.

But for a student with a disability, it doesn’t always happen in that way. It doesn’t always happen in that order. It is often much more complex and complicated.

Many of our children have a diagnosis, but along with that diagnosis they may have underlying learning challenges as well. They may have auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, visual perception issues and/or ADHD — just to name a few.

That doesn’t mean a child can’t learn. They can!

That doesn’t mean they won’t learn. They can!

It just needs to be in a manner that is meaningful and relevant to them.

Many times children with disabilities aren’t able to test in the way teachers expect. They aren’t able to repeat the material that was just taught in a way that is immediate and testable.  The information goes in and is often understood, but they may not have the ability to prove it until a later date. Sometimes that date is days later with an accommodation of extra time, or in a quiet place. Sometimes it is weeks later, when the material can be memorized and shifted from short term memory to long term memory. It doesn’t mean they didn’t hear it, and it doesn’t mean they don’t understand it.

That can be a hard concept for a teacher to grasp. It can be worrisome and frustrating. We have this expectation of learning leading to testing, testing leading to a grade, and good grades equaling teacher success.

I ask that you open your mind and heart to other possibilities.

I often call my son a sponge. He soaks up all the information! He hears it, he sees it, but we just aren’t sure in what way it will come out. That’s OK! He needs to be in the room, he needs to be exposed to it. It doesn’t mean he didn’t grasp it.

My son is super smart! He has hundreds of song lyrics memorized and will sing them only when that specific song is playing. He has complete scenes from movies memorized and often speaks them along with the character, but only when the movie is playing. He can act out complete scenes from musicals he loves. He has intricate facts about sea creatures and sea mammals that come out only when he is at the aquarium. These are examples of information he has stored. The information is in there, but it only comes out at a specific, meaningful time to him.

He has a goal of working one day. He wants to live independently and go to college. He wants to feel successful, be happy and be included.

When he wants to do something, he can! It may just take him a little while longer.

When he wants to learn something new, he will! It just needs to be in a way that works best with his learning style.

Please don’t doubt him. Please assume competence!

Originally published: September 2, 2019
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