Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Do you ever wonder?

I've been a teacher for 10 years now. I know, I can't believe it myself. Over the course of these years there are some skills I've picked up. I've perfected the 'teacher look', one that will even freeze misbehaving children in a supermarket (though unfortunately, this skill does not translate its effectiveness on my own children). I've developed a skill of being able to deliver witty remarks to audiences ranging in age from 5 to 13. And, I can find the truth behind most children's conflicts with remarkable speed. But the skill that I seem to be reflecting on a bit these days is the ability to pseudo-diagnose kids who are 'a little off'. Let me be clear about this. I'm not a doctor. I don't have a psychology degree. I am not qualified to officially diagnose anybody. But, when you spend as much time with children as I do you pick up things. In fact, you kinda look out for them so that if you suspect something, you can make a reccommendation to a team for a possible assessment of that child by someone who's qualified to do such a thing. That way, the child will get as much assistance as they need. Basically it's knowing by previous experience. Kids with Aspergers tend to have similarties to each other. Kids with Attachment Disorder have similarities to each other and so on.
It's kinda funny looking back at your own childhood when you are a teacher. Things that you wondered about school make more sense now. There's a girl in particular that I went to school with and I wondered about then and have had an 'aha' moment about now. I could never figure out why this girl kept getting passed to the next grade. She was clearly below level and it drove me crazy. I would know this about her because I was a good candidate for teachers to partner her up with, which they often did. I was bright and quiet and nice. Meaning, I would do my part of the work well enough that she would also get a good mark; I would also help her as much as possible without making her feel stupid; and, I would be nice to her (where other kids may have made fun of her). Most of the time I was willing to go along with this (arguing with a teacher would never have crossed my mind), but I do remember one time where I had had enough. It was the only time in my memory I ever begged a teacher to partner me up with someone else. Looking back now, I can see why they chose me (and other kids like me) to work with her, and I also see me doing similar things when I assign projects and group work. But I still wonder about this girl today. Where is she now? What is she doing? What kind of life does she lead? I can't say that I know the answer. Once we got to high school, I headed to my honours classes and don't think I ever had a class in common with her again. I know we ran into each other from time to time, but that was it, she was just a girl I had gone to elementary school with.
I wonder now (with all my fabulous teacher skills) if she was diagnosed with anything and was able to recieve assisance in her schooling. Or, was she just passed along, teachers accepting that's just her and that's what she can do. We are talking over 20 years ago in non-integrated schools, so it's hard for me to know. People didn't use words like autism and aspergers with the ease that they do today. This was back in the day when the word retarded was still acceptable (although not very nice).
I also wonder if we are too quick to judge and diagnose. If there's too many people out there insisting that their child has ADHD because it's a buzz word. I know I've taught kids with true ADHD and they really do deserve recognition and assistance, but I don't believe that as many kids have it as claim to. I know some kids who use their diagnoses as an excuse to not learn, rather than take the stance of, 'yes, this is something I have, but I have to deal with it and succeed anyway'.
Just things that cross my mind really. I just got a book out called 'Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's' by John Elder Robison and I'm really intrested to read it. It's a memoir from a man who wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until he was in his 40's. I wonder what his take on all of this labelling is?

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