I spent awhile watching Charlie this afternoon. He was putting together a Lego toy his mom got him for being good at the store. It took a couple of start-overs and a redefining of the term “good” but eventually Charlie and Eli earned toys from the store.
Charlie helped put away groceries and then started putting together his Lego. He quickly assembled the toy based on the picture-only instructions that Lego issues with their toys. His hands moved deftly and quickly through the pieces. He flipped through the pages and in a about 20 minutes he assembled a toy that the good people at Lego suggested only children over 12 attempt. Charlie is 10. OK, so I am not suggesting that we stop the presses because my 10-year-old put together a Lego, but it isn’t that simple for Charlie. About 18 months ago he basically couldn’t read or do math that involved more than single digit numbers.
I have written earlier blogs about Charlie’s struggles with learning disabilities. He has cognitive processing issues and is dyslexic. It got to the point in third grade where his teachers breathed through their teeth, winced and told us we would have to lower our expectations for him. Yeah . . . About that time a lady named Kate Ortega came along and provided tutoring services that got Charlie on track with his general education and special education courses.
I was thinking as Charlie worked on his Lego that he doesn’t look at all like a special education kid. Then I realized how much of a jerk that thought made me. What is a special education kid supposed to look like? Everyday I get closer to becoming a professional educator and its high time I realized that special education doesn’t have a “look”. I spent last semester doing a practicum in a special education class at local middle school. There were kids with cognitive, physical and emotional issues that made them better able to learn in a special education classroom.
I have sat in classrooms and listened to professors discussed how different people learn in different ways. I thought it sunk in. All those semester hours I spent writing down definitions and it took watching Charlie put together a Lego for me to get it. Taking a different route to a specific definition takes different efforts and skills. You still get to your destination, you just encounter different traffic patterns and maybe more stoplights. You still get there. When the destination is education some kids need to take different routes. They aren’t going to necessarily look different. It’s embarrassing that it took me this long to get that, but Charlie and his Lego will make me a better teacher.
It occurs to me that perhaps, generally, we tend to kind of read to the first mistake when it comes to kids and their learning abilities. If we run into a problem we focus on the problem instead of looking at their capabilities. Charlie struggled mightily with reading and math, but he has always been able to work his Legos. Within the Lego context he was very literate. Once when was five he showed me a free-form Lego airplane he built from spare parts. As he was showing me his invention, something fell off. “I am going to have to reinforce that,” he said as he pieced it back together. Reinforce? Seriously? The kid was stumped by “See Spot Run,” and he is slinging around words like ‘reinforce’? I looked at him. “Reinforce?” I asked. He looked at me. “Yeah Dad, reinforce,” he said. “It means make stronger.” I blinked . . . I know what reinforce means. The point is that despite his processing issues, he was, and is, very talented when it comes to building things and making things with his hands. He has very developed spatial and mechanical skills. His tutor and special education teacher have tapped into those skills to help him progress in other areas.
Charlie is done with his Lego. As I write, he is helping his mom make chili. When I asked what he was doing and he explained he was ‘browning’ ground beef and ground turkey. I nodded at him and smiled. “That means cooking it over high heat and kind of searing it.” I know what that means too.
Thanks for reading and we will see you soon on This Side of the Diaper.