Monday, May 12, 2008

Don't Read a Book. . . you know the rest

When you have a new, brain-damaged baby no one can tell you what their mental capacity is going to be. Cognition is a complete mystery and it's something that develops after birth. A child doesn't come into this world knowing how to talk, or read, or do math problems. These are things that are learned. As a teacher I know that much of a child's abilities are developed by their parents working with them, encouraging them, and guiding their natural curiosity. My experiences as a teacher, however, are mostly about those that can see and hear and walk.

When a child has significant physical handicaps it is often difficult to determine exactly how much they know and understand. Sometimes these handicaps make it hard to teach a child. There have been many cases, however, of parents working with severely handicapped children and those children demonstrating an intellect that is on par and sometimes above the par of their peers. Whether or not you can walk doesn't determine whether or not you'll be able to read.

From the beginning, I've felt that Charlie understands what's going on around him. Despite all his issues, my gut said that he "got it." This is by no means hard and fast evidence, but makes me feel a little better.

At our six month evaluation, problem solving was the only area that we weren't behind in. As he's gotten older, he's demonstrated that he quickly figures out how to operate toys. Sometimes, it's extremely difficult for him to operate them by himself, but you can tell that he knows what he has to do (hint: you might have to help him a bit). I know that we have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I also know that the wheels are spinning in that head of his. My goal is to figure out the best way to guide him, teach him, and show him. Kathryn over at Ryn Tales is a wonderful model of someone who's farther down this road. Her daughter, Ellie, has a pretty involved case of cerebral palsy and at age five hasn't yet spoken. Despite this, she can read 250 words. I would also bet that she knows more about geography than your average able-bodied person walking down the street. Kathryn and her husband have held to the idea that if Ellie can't get to it, then they'll have to bring it to her. They are a major inspiration.

So, where am I going with all this? What is the point of this long, rambling post? Simply, we've taught Charlie his first baby sign: more. He knows it and he's starting to use it with regularity. At this point it's mostly during play, but I know we can expand on it. Those wheels are turning.