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Friday, December 30, 2011

Very Special Kids

About 10% of students suffer from what we call in education Learning Disability (LD), a puzzling but detectable brain malfunction that makes it very difficult for kids to process academic information. It is often confused with low I.Q. unfortunately as most students enjoy a normal level of intelligence. Another more "popular" disability is dyslexia, which is strictly related to reading as students do not perceive letters and words "normally". Parents of such children should pay close attention to these diagnoses obtained through a series of verbal and non-verbal tests. They should ask to see the detailed results and if they note something amiss, they must request a re-test by a different agency. That is their right, at least in public education schools.


boy giving presentation
 "Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com"


 Just as "normal" students are better at math than English, LD students may show different abilities; one of my teen special students has excellent results in science, i.e. chemistry and biology, while struggling enormously in social sciences and English. Science cannot pinpoint the actual cause for such dysfunction, but we can certainly help as parents and as teachers. Special students labeled as L.D. usually need to study twice as long as regular students and they must do so just to keep up with the class. In the best scenario, they have a tutor, sometimes provided by the school or offered by a private company. But most pupils in relatively poor areas, where I teach, cannot afford such personal trainers and their parents are seldom able to help them with their homework. It is therefore up to the school to provide such support with volunteer teachers staying after school.

Parental support is absolutely critical to ensure success in disabled students; these usually suffer from a low self-esteem, a condition brought about since elementary by the taunting of their more fortunate peers. Unfortunately, a few teachers also contribute to the fact by failing to establish high expectations and by not preventing the verbal bullying. A welcoming home where the special students feel loved and appreciated goes a long way toward establishing a firm mental base upon which these kids build a solid appreciation of themselves.

A special education teacher's main concern is to motivate these struggling students; too often, they show that they have given up by sleeping in class or by not doing their assignments. But with the parents' help, the teacher's efforts will have a higher probability of success. Constant communication between home and school must be the norm in order to achieve the goal of graduating from high school and preparing for the rigors of earning a living. My greatest reward is to receive the visit of an ex-special student who is doing well in life. It doesn't happen as often as I would like.

The transition from high school to regular life is a difficult one for any youngster; there are many poorly paid jobs out there and more often than not that is what special students end up doing. One of their better choices is to join the military, a career that can offer them many rewards, including paying for college or teaching them a specific skill that can applied in civilian life. Dangerous? Of course, but so is crossing a busy street. Other substantial possibilities lie in the realm of vocational schools where they can learn well-paid occupations ranging from medical assistant to carpentry, plumbing, or cosmetology. The key to all of them is learning how to read and understand at least 80% of the material.

Public schools have suffered severe budget cuts in 2011 which have affected all students with larger classrooms, less teachnology (sic, my invention), and fewer support classes. Teachers have also suffered by being laid off or not receiving an increase in their low salaries. Considering the enormous waste in resources at every level of government, it strikes me as completely irrational that a country such as ours would reduce financial support for our public education. These kids are our future, right?


 

4 comments:

JP said...

I enjoyed this interesting blog on very topical and educational subject matter.

Jacques Sprenger said...

Thank you JP for your comment

Anonymous said...

Estimado Profesor Sprenger, primero que nada un honor para mí poder saludarle después de tanto tiempo además de agradecerle el haber sembrado en mi la necesidad de la capacitación continua y el deseo de ser mejor. Entré por casualidad a su blog y gracias nuevamente por seguir enriqueciendo la vida de quienes tenemos la oportunidad de llegar a conocerle.

Sinceramente

Manuel Santos

Jacques Sprenger said...

Gracias Manuel aunque no me acuerdo de ti, tus observaciones son muy apreciadas.