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What People Should Know About Labels Like 'Behavior Issues'

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In 1974, my little sister who had cerebral palsy started school. The teacher put stick figure PEC pictures all over her tray covered in I assume some type of clear box tape. This little girl came home and we had the most delightful conversation. She was vocal but not verbal, and through these simple pictures, she was able to tell me about her day. Her eyes lit up as she looked at me and we formed a quiet understanding of each other.

It was on that day I realized that a disability or disorder did not define who she was, nor did it define her hopes and dreams about her future. That was four decades ago; my only sister passed away a few years later.

Since then, I have had countless experiences of the same nature. Most of my adult career has revolved around being a caretaker, teacher, and most important, a friend to many individuals who have been labeled. I always see a child, not a disability.

Christian was a 5-year-old boy with autism. The principal asked me to be a one-on-one assistant for him because behavioral issues followed him from another school. The first day I saw him, he was smiling from ear to ear and ready to go. I affectionately called him “Tigger” for the bounce in his step and his never ending smile.

special needs education the mighty

I observed these so-called “behaviors” in a special education room for about two weeks. During that time, I figured out again through a quiet understanding that he was a rambunctious, typical 5-year-old boy. No one gave him tools to communicate, and what better way to get someone’s attention? That’s right, by being overly rambunctious.

During those two weeks, I introduced sign language and PEC pictures. I asked the special education teacher if I could mainstream him in his kindergarten classroom. Both general and special education teachers were leery but gave it a shot. He flourished around his peers. He still was rambunctious, but he saved that for the playground. He participated in all activities in his general education class, rarely visiting the special education room. He was curious, inquisitive, and loved to explore. Fast forward 15 years later, he is now verbal and transitioning into independent living.

special needs education the mighty

Zion is a 7-year-old I met last year. He has Charge syndrome. He is very medically fragile to most, but to me, he was a curious little boy who spoke through his eyes and facial expressions.

The classroom teacher was petrified of him because he had MRSA and she was afraid of getting it. Thus, his classroom experience was limited. He was bored with baby toys that were handed to him day after day.

I knew he needed change, so I created a time for reading group. I would read a story and through PEC pictures I would ask comprehension questions to him and let him tell me by pointing to the appropriate pictures. Booyah! He was right on target with his reading and comprehension skills. He is such a strong, courageous little boy who is also typical in his curiosity and love of learning.

He had a simple goal of going 200 feet in the gym in a gate trainer. He surpassed that and then some. How? Because like all kids, he wanted someone to play with him. So that’s what we did. We played bowling, basketball, even dancing and there were days that he went around that 200-foot gym three times. He loves attention and likes to pull you close, especially your hair, so I taught him the art of a hug! He’s the best hugger around.

The list could go on and on with the amazing experiences that I have had with these beautiful children. In the end, they’ve taught me to see past a label and see the child in front of me. They want what all children want: encouragement, guidance, love and attention. My preschool/childcare welcomes children most centers will not accept due to a label that they aren’t sure they are experienced for, when all they needed was experience with kids.

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Originally published: April 6, 2015
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