Question: You have a student in your class who is living with a developmental disability that requires your and the other students’ care, attention, and time. In discussing the situation with a colleague, he rolls his eyes and comments that the student with the disability is “holding back” the rest of the class. Craft out a well thought-out response.
Let me first say that the above question is what inspired me to write this post, but I will not exactly be answering that question directly. Instead, I am going to tell a story about one of the people I went to high school with and how he impacted me. For the sake of this story (because it is on a public site) I will not use his real name. Instead, I will call him (*drumroll*) Andy.
Andy was a student with diverse needs in my high school class and was a part of the Autism program at our school. He did not go to the high school I was apart of for all four years, so I did not know him prior to taking a Creative Writing class with him when I was in grade 11. Andy sat at the back of that class, next to our teacher’s desk, at a table with a teacher’s aide who assisted him with his work. Because I was young and had never had a class with someone in the same situration as Andy, I made the mistake of thinking that he was incapable of what the rest of the class, including myself, could do. He quickly, however, proved me very wrong. Every Friday, we were all expected to share a piece of our writing with the class. The first time Andy got up to read his poem, we were all blown away. Not only was he one of the most charismatic readers in our class—he had about one hundred times more confidence than I did—but his writing was beautiful. From that day on, there was not a single person in the class who did not eagerly anticipate hearing more of Andy’s work. He was creative, intelligent, and gave me a great deal of motivation to improve my own work. I felt terrible for having misjudged what he was capable of and was so grateful that he had proven me wrong.
I did not have any more classes with Andy after that, and did not see him around school much because of it. So despite the fact that I, and the rest of our class, ultimately spent very little time with him because most of his classtime was spent with the Autism program, something happened at our graduation ceremony that proved how important Andy was to us. A great deal of time is spent during the ceremony giving out students awards for various things including academics and leadership. It was fairly dull, for the most part, until one particular award was presented. Andy was presented with a leadership and service award for the work he had done to create and execute a recycling program at our school. And for the first and only time that day, everyone in the room stood up to cheer for him. There was not a single student, staff member, or parent who did not get up to cheer for him. I remember looking around the room and seeing many people, including my mom, shedding tears because the moment was so powerful.
So to anyone who assumes that someone who is different or “developmentally delayed” in anyway is “holding back” his peers, I would point to this story. I got a chance to see first hand the impact that someone who is different can have on his peers. Andy did not hold us back in anyway; instead, he inspired us to think bigger and do better. I call that a decent lesson for the “rest of the class” to learn!