Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Short Bus

I finished reading The Short Bus by Jonathan Mooney an I really liked it. (Note to those following the blog closely: I failed again at reading Religion for Atheists and I have to return it unread, again. But I promise I'll pick it up again after my vacation!) Mooney tells his story with compassion, both for himself and for the people he meets. Heck, he even has compassion for the bus. He makes his points well, too. As far as I can tell, Mooney has two main points in this book:

1) We should celebrate all people for their abilities, and we should never treat anyone as less than human because they think differently than we do.

2) Labels cause more difficulties than they are worth.

I love the first point. After all, that's a fine Humanist statement, and Mooney tests it with visits to a girl who is both deaf and blind, a man who seems to make no sense when he talks, and Burning Man. But he manages to find some beauty in everyone he meets and is convincing in his argument that one school model cannot serve everyone and everyone deserves the opportunity to learn.

On the second point, though, Mooney and I differ a bit. I think labels, when used correctly, can be very helpful. That's why teachers like IEP's (Individualized Educational Plans.) A well-written IEP gives a teacher valuable information about how a child learns, so that she doesn't have to discover it all again. Valuable weeks of school time can be saved, as well as plenty of frustration. In terms of a child's self-worth, and ADHD kid is going to be much better off in my classroom, on Sunday mornings and Tuesday afternoons, if I know he's ADHD and don't ask him to do things he physically can't do, than if I don't know he's ADHD and spend a lot of time trying to get him to sit down and be quiet.

Here's a better example: My Dad has really poor working memory. (Working memory is the part of the brain that remembers instructions and remembers to remember things.) To be clear, he's a really smart man: he has a PhD, he reads great literature, he can hold his own in an argument and he knows more about dinosaurs than any adult really should. But when he says he'll be somewhere, he may or may not show up.

This has been true his whole life. As a child, I often found myself waiting to be picked up at piano lessons, or driven past acting classes and having to double back because my dad got distracted while driving. He even forgot my daughter's first birthday celebration. When these things happened, there would be fights and recriminations and denials and no explanation to be found. These disputes caused a decent amount of stress in our family, and to this day I have anxiety whenever I have to meet someone or wait for someone.

Then, in his sixties, my dad got diagnosed with ADHD. Suddenly, everything made sense. We now understand what my dad can do and what he can't. He understands it, too. So when he's supposed to be  at The Little Jewess's school for a special event, my mom makes sure he leaves early, and then he calls her when he gets there. He keeps his phone on so we can call him if he's not where he's supposed to be. My mom is now 100% in charge of their calendar, and she goes over with my dad where he's supposed to be when so he doesn't forget.

My dad's diagnosis was a moment of huge relief for all of us. Suddenly, there were books and websites he could turn to for hints on how to remember things better. My mom no longer blames him for not doing things he can't do, and instead of enabling him, she can structure things in a way that my dad doesn't forget and there is no crisis, and no ensuing fight.

So I kind of like labels. The catch is, the label can't be everything. You have to see the person above all, and treat that person with respect, even if that person needs help.

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