Do We Put Limits on Potential Without Realizing it?
I have been around children with special needs for a long time. I have a sister who is blind, mentally challenged, cannot walk unassisted, falls backwards constantly, and a whole host of other issues.
Many Mothers in my classes over the years have expressed to me their sadness at their experiences with medical professionals.
Specialists are all too quick to diagnose challenges in children and aren’t at all too empathetic when delivering that diagnosis. Some statements endured by the parents of the children I teach have been:
“Your son is autistic. This is the best it is every going to get. Get over yourselves and just suck it up.” (Mr B., then 2 years)
“Your daughter will never learn to communicate with you. She will sit in silence as you watch and there will never be a bond between her and you. Just live with it.” (Miss E, then 1 year)
“Your daughter will never have language. Don’t expect what you can never have. She is autistic and will never form an attachment to you. Either live with it or put her in a home.” (Miss R., then 1.5 years)
Mr B had auditory processing disorder. When sent back to the pediatrician, he said “What is auditory processing anyway? That doesn’t exist!” As a sound therapist I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!
Mr B went from a slumped over, drooling child to one that now attends a normal primary school, integrated with normally learning children with some support in the classroom. He speaks, he does homework and we found out that Mr B is very gifted at math.
Miss E never held eye contact, appeared to be in her own world and had no verbalization. With constant work from her parents and various therapists, Miss E learned to make her wishes known through non-verbal cues which her parents respond to beautifully. She is starting to verbalize and is now making eye contact about 50% of the time. She is starting to follow instructions and loves socializing with other children.
Miss R, now 10 years old, by the age of 3 years was talking non-stop and could read fluently. When I asked her why she had not spoken before she was 3, she just shrugged her shoulders and said “Nothing important to say.” When re-diagnosed, she was diagnosed as a genius, off the charts with her IQ.
The brain is plastic and no-one can predict what a child will or will not be able to learn to do.
As educators of children without special needs do we also sometimes put limits on our child’s potential without even realizing it?
Here are 3 things that we may do as educators without even realizing we are doing it but that can limit a child and stop them reaching their full potential.
- Educate out of Fear. Sometimes when we have had a bad experience ourselves and we don’t want the children in our care to go through the same things we will limit their experiences based on our fear. We need to make sure we are not imposing limits on their experiences because we are afraid they will get hurt as we were. Our fear might also be because we don’t have experience with a certain type of child or challenge. Become knowledgeable, learn from the parent and try strategies. They may not all work, but you will learn what does work from implementing ideas.
- Expecting Perfection. When we expect perfection and it is not delivered, we leave the children in our care feeling like they have failed, even if they have done their best. This festers a feeling of not wanting to try because nothing they ever do is good enough. Children need to be free to make mistakes and understand that is how we learn. Mistakes are normal and remember the age appropriateness of what you are expecting and while you may encourage their best, accept that when it comes. Worse is when we expect nothing. Like the examples above, expecting less than is possible is just as limiting.
- Imposing Our Own Learning Style on the Child. It is difficult when you have a child that is completely different to you. In a class that is bound to happen. I have seen many Educators and kids over the years in this situation. For example, a shy and anxious child has an educator who is extremely outgoing with no fear of anything. Or an outgoing child with an educator who tends to be more shy and quiet. We need to get to know who each of our children are and not expect that they will do things the same way we learned them, or what is comfortable for us. Rather than getting frustrated, rejoice in the differences in the children in your classes and work out how to maximize their strengths.