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Fishy Goes to School

Those who know me in person know that, in general, few things short of an impending apocalypse can tempt me out of bed before 9 AM. Today I was voluntarily up by 7 and out of the house at 8… so that I could go with Fishy to his school for the day (he does a half-day at a school that does “reverse mainstreaming”– a few typically developing children in with those with disabilities. Today his classroom didn’t have any “normal” kids, though, which meant it was more low-key and quiet).

It was wonderful. And seeing him fall over himself with excitement when I showed up at his house early was just to die for.

I wasn’t too worried ahead of time, because I know Fishy adores school, so they obviously aren’t mistreating him there, but I was a bit nervous about seeing other children and maybe witnessing some unintentional abuse in the name of therapy. But I didn’t see anything like that. The adults– a mix of teachers, therapists, and parents (or other caretakers like myself)– were respectful of the children, encouraging them, letting them play pretty much however they wanted, encouraging them in their skills. There was a lot of laughing and smiling from all the kids.

Only once did I see one of the kids relatively unhappy, being made to practice using a walker in P.T. [Physical Therapy]. I thought the adults should have been doing a lot more encouraging him and explaining /why/ this was a good thing for him to do. During Fishy’s walker practice, I not only enthused at him for every step, but also reminded him that soon he’ll be able to walk by himself, and can go places, and can walk to Mommy, and walk to Daddy… and so on. I have no idea how much of this he understands, but I figure it can’t hurt to remind him what he’s getting out of this hard work he’s doing.

I heard a few instances of “gentle hands” (mostly at Fishy, who tends to grab a bit hard when excited) but no “quiet hands.” A little too often, adults did things for children instead of letting them try, or rushed the children a bit in their own attempts, but for the most part all were given turns and encouraged to do as much of the activity at hand as they were capable of. And of course, I spent most of the time at Fishy’s side cheering him on and making sure he had everything he needed– which, today, was mainly lots of attention and affection. Everyone there has noticed that he’s been a little clingy since Baby Brother arrived on the scene a few weeks ago.

I was thrilled to see, during circle time, that the teacher went around asking each of the more mobile children to do a particular motion with him– clap, point, whatever, and when he got to Fishy, he said “let’s do the Fishy-flap” and had Fishy do his “I’m excited” arm-flap with him! Fishy was tickled pink, and so was I.

I attended an adaptive P.E. [Physical Education] class with Fishy, where we practiced various motor skills– some as a group, others particular to each child. He and I army-crawled across the floor together, and he practiced pushing himself around on a small rolling stool– first sitting up and pushing himself backward with him feet, then, at my request, face-down on the thing like lying on a skateboard. As I expected, Fishy liked that better because he could move forward.

He also got to use a “dynamic stander”– like a cross between a Sega and a wheelchair. The kid is strapped into it in a standing position, leaning forward against an upright padded surface, and there are big wheels to either side that the kid can push to roll forward or backward. Fishy seems to have the hang of it, but he gets tired easily. The kids also got to lie down and be bounced on a little blow-up raft thing, which apparently helps them build up muscle-tone (and which they love), and were physically guided through various exercises like “pedaling” their legs as though riding a bike.

I was gratified, and honestly quite surprised, to find that my affection for children with disabilities extends beyond Fishy. I got along swimmingly with all the kids that I interacted with, and they all seemed to like me a lot, too. There was only one fully verbal child there, who I found a little tiring (I have enough trouble parsing adult speech– child-speak is exhausting for me to try and understand), but who was also cheerful and fun. We played together with cars on the floor, and pretended to go to the beach.

I managed to pull this kid, Fishy, and another kid who seems to be a bit behind Fishy’s development level, into a little circle to play with some fist-sized plastic pop-beads. Talky was sorting them into piles by color, Fishy wanted to chew them and clack them together with his hands and rummage around in the bin full of them, and the third boy wanted to be handed them one at a time and throw them to me. All 3 kids enjoyed watched me spin them like tops. And when free play time was ending, I managed to get all three kids helping me toss them back into the bin. The other adults seemed frankly impressed with me. Heck, I impressed myself. I’ve never been this good with kids before. Is it possible that I, so incredibly focused on language from an early age, just communicate best with non-verbal children?

Am I really starting to consider a career in this? I wonder how special education pays…? [note: yes, I’ve heard. Poorly. I’m not going to rule it out on those grounds alone, though, provided I could get work in a positive teaching environment like the one I witnessed here].

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