For those of you who have been following this blog, you know that it is intended to capture Joey’s journey as we watch him develop and learn. Yet in many ways, this blog is documenting my own journey as his teacher as well. As I watch Joey learn and quickly grasp onto new tasks, I find myself asking many questions along the way about how best to apply what I already know about teaching children with disabilities and child development to Joey and his unique needs.
As a teacher, it is often scary to admit that we are not quite sure of what to do next. It is particularly terrifying to also admit on a public blog, where anyone can comment and note the mistakes you may or may not be making. And yet, I think openly reflecting, questioning and thinking about the deeper intentions of our practices is what makes us better professionals. No one knows all the answers to how to best support one child, particularly one with complex needs. This is true for parents, as well as teachers and therapists. It is not our job to follow one pre-set path, but to respond to the child in front of us, and constantly question what is best for this child.
The world of special education, I’ve found, is often fraught with fear of admitting that as professionals we may not have all the answers. Whether this is fear of lawsuits within the school setting, or a fear of not following a set program to fidelity, we tend to stay on a set path. Yet, sometimes this can lead us to overlooking how best to support a child’s unique needs. So here I am, openly admitting my questions, and sharing my search for answers with you.
I am constantly aware of the voices within my own head. The developmental approach of Stanley Greenspan, against a more behaviorist approach. Part of the work as an educator is finding the pieces between each approach, and making those match each student in front of us.
I spent October 4th through 6th at the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division of Early Childhood International Conference in Portland, Oregon. It is always energizing to hear what others in the field are doing, what new work is being developed, and what current research is finding. During many of these sessions, I found myself thinking about Joey and how such research applies to children with significant motor impairments.
I went to many sessions on PLAY. Sessions that discussed the importance of play, how it supports child development, how to work with parents to appreciate play, and how best to teach play. It is exciting to think about all the work currently being conducted on the importance of play.
I attended one session from Northeastern University on their Project Play in which they have been studying the developmental trajectory of object play. Their findings show that children with and without disabilities develop play in a series of stages that build on one another. Children with disabilities develop may develop these play stages at a slower rate than typically developing children, but they go through the same play development.
Most of the developmental stages in this study involved a child’s ability to manipulate an object. A child starts with indiscriminate actions on an object, leading to discriminate actions, conducting a series of combined actions, building toward pretend and symbolic play.
How do we support a child’s cognitive play development when his motor development is delayed? If Joey can only manipulate objects at a basic level due to his motor abilities, how do we facilitate his development of play so that he can reach those higher developmental levels? Without being able to manipulate objects himself, explore spatial relations of moving a set of beans from container to container, and stacking with blocks, will his later play development be slowed? How can we prevent that from occurring? How do we support him at these higher play levels, without overlooking the importance of developing his skills at these lower levels? Or are these stages important?
I hope that my box book kits are supporting his development of symbolic play, and that I am building in activities that support his visual-spatial learning as well. I am in a constant state of asking, “Is this enough?” “What am I missing?” “What would be better?”
So, as you continue to follow this blog, you will not just be reading about Joey’s journey, but mine as well. Join me in this unsettled place of self-questioning, looking for answers, and always wondering if what we are doing is right. It’s not always a pleasant place to be, but these questions make us stronger. And what makes us stronger, makes Joey stronger.