Jan 23, 2010

The children who won't go to the Olympics

I just got home from a lesson with a disabled student. "Miss E," as her mom calls her, has dyspraxia. Dyspraxic kids have trouble turning information into action which can affect movement, language, and perception. Including E, I have two developmentally disabled private students, and I am working with 7 disabled children in my classes, about 10% of the total number of children in my classes this session. (UPDATE: since writing this, I've become the Program Leader for SPICE, a regular class for children with special needs.)

E is the first child with dyspraxia I've worked with, so I'm learning about this disability. Children on the Aspergers/autism spectrum are quite common, and I've had kids with diagnosed OCD, Downs, and cerebral palsy. But every child that one works with has unique gifts and deficits, even so-called "normal" ones. One of the things that makes group teaching the most challenging kind of instruction is finding ways to meet every child's needs.

While Rachel Flatt is landing triples on tv right now, I'm still exhausted and exhilarated because Miss E figured out how to push today. I've been working on this for weeks, literally on my hands and knees, putting her feet in the proper position. Bent over to help her limbs skate the pattern. And today she did it. Pushed with power and knowledge. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it.

The best low freestyle student I've got in classes right now is L, who is a Downs child. L is smart and a gifted athlete; the sweetest girl and the hardest worker, but it has taken her years to get where normally-abled children get in a few months or less, and her technique will never be proper because she doesn't have the muscle tone she needs. But everyone on staff loves to get her in class because of her pride and her joy and her sweet nature.

R had severe OCD. Every step she took was agony, because it had to be perfect. H, now residing in a boarding school, has autism. After three sessions, he was no longer screaming at the other students and hitting me. He never learned the skills in the level, but he learned how to take a class. I give special credit, and blessing, to the other students and parents who tolerated this, and they share in his success. D is high-functioning Aspergers, diagnosed young; his mother is using the challenging environment of an ice rink to help him assimilate the sensory input that can be so overwhelming to Aspergers kids.

So while we are watching Rachel Flatt with her four AP classes, and Sasha Cohen with her determination not to let the quest for the gold go, I want everyone to remember that many children have their own olympic successes, and it might just be looking a teacher in the eye and smiling, because you finally understand.

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