Friday, September 4, 2009

Labels are for Soup Cans

One of the biggest fears you hear when someone says "brain damage" is a lack of intellect. I mean, it didn't even really occur to me all the physical issues that are involved with brain damage--that came later.

I mean, the idea that my child might be "retarded" was pretty shocking to me. I'll be frank and say that I was expecting to deal with issues such as AP versus IB and whether or not schools had good gifted programs.

But I had an advantage that many people don't--I'd worked as a special ed teacher for five years.

I'd taught kids that were "mentally retarded" and I'd learned a lot about that diagnosis and what it really meant. The definition of "mentally retarded" or "mildly retarded" is a person with an IQ lower than 70. Average is 100. Most of the kids I worked with were high functioning so their IQ's fell between 60 and 70.

Never has a number meant less. I saw kids with an IQ of 70 master complex geometry. I saw kids with higher than that fail miserably. I had one girl come into my class "retarded" and leave "learning disabled." I saw a girl get the label "retarded" because they couldn't figure out what the heck was wrong with her--I think boy crazy and disinterested might have been a better classification.

So after I found out Charlie had brain damage, I hit the pavement, er, Internet and did as much research as I could. My idea of research is to gather as many cases as I can and draw my own conclusions--I don't like being told what to think. What I saw was this--a kid could be very physically compromised by their brain damage and still mentally capable. I found that kids who were missing two senses--primarily vision and hearing--were at a great risk for mental handicaps. Ditto for kids with an uncontrolled seizure disorder. Other than that, though, there was simply no telling whether a kid would be fine or not. Looked like a crap shoot. I also found a LOT of fault with the IQ system which I was already not crazy about. I mean, how do you test IQ on someone who can't hold a pencil? Has trouble focusing their eyes? Can't speak? Can't hold up their head?

So I made a conclusion. I decided that many disabled kids probably got low IQ scores for a plethora of obvious reasons--they didn't get out as much, they were often sick, they couldn't actually get to all the things typical kids could, they couldn't see as well, they couldn't manipulate their world as well. I mean really, with all these challenges is it any wonder that they might not know as much as their peers?

So how do you get the info in with all these challenges?

With Charlie, I'm always quizzing people with typical children and observing them. What are they doing right now? If they're digging in the kitchen cabinets then so are we--I just have to do the digging while Charlie watches. Same for the fridge, the drawers in his dresser, and the mail box. My friend's kid is constantly asking "what's that?" Well, Charlie can't talk yet but I just walk around identifying everything we run into. This is the car. This is your seat. I'm getting gas. Gas makes the car go. Blah, blah, blah. He freakin' loved the deli counter.

I could continue this post for another five paragraphs but I'll leave it at this for tonight--go enjoy the long weekend and I promise to come back next week and talk about brain theory, reading, and why it's always a good time to start helping your child read.