My journey, working with students with disabilities, began when I took a position as an aide in a 4th grade classroom assisting a very large 9 year old boy. He was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. In case you are not aware, it is a congenital (present from birth) disease. It affects many parts of the body. People with this condition are obese, have reduced muscle tone and mental ability. They also want to eat constantly because they never feel full. My responsibility was to sit next to him and keep him busy and engaged with what was being taught in class. I also had to monitor and make sure he wasn’t snacking. When I took this job I had absolutely no experience working with students with disabilities. During my teacher education block, there was a 1 credit class on mainstreaming students. Certainly not enough for what I would encounter in the following years.
I went on to get my Masters in Reading and it was there that I would gain some book knowledge about learning disabilities. Again, not much practical and hands-on experience. Then I landed a position as Coordinator of Disability Services at a small private college in NY. Here I got the opportunity to support students with mostly learning disabilities (LD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Wow, if it weren’t for my colleagues in the field and Google, I would have been totally lost in the complexity of the American Disability Act (ADA) and the agency of the Office of Civil Rights and how they hand down rulings for colleges based on discrimination cases. Not only did I have the challenges of learning the laws and guidelines but of also learning about different types of disabilities and how it might affect their access to the physical and learning environment.
I have come to realize that my learning didn’t just stop at the completion of those two degrees nor did learning cease even after a certain amount of years doing the same thing. For me, and the type of career I have embarked upon for 15 years (and counting), LEARNING is something I do every day. Being open to learning is a necessity because the field of disability services at the college level is fluid and ever changing, every student is different and has different needs and every day is a new situation.
So who is my teacher? I will share in the following posts.