Today our classrooms, just like families, are becoming more unique and blended. Teachers are tasked with effectively teaching students with disabilities and diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In order for educators to meet the needs of their students, key strategies must be implemented that will positively affect their students academically and behaviorally. This paper reflects on the experience of one of these families and identifies key strategies to maximize the potential of cultural and linguistically exceptional students. Background
I was lucky enough to interview a family that I have worked with over the years as a nanny. For the purposes of this paper and the anonymity of the family I am using the names Lucy and Chris (to refer to the mother I interviewed and her husband) and James (to refer to the exceptional child). Because I have been working in this family’s home for a number of years I am able to give an accurate overview of their socioeconomic status. Lucy and Chris self-identify as African-American and live in San Pedro, CA where the population is 76,415 with 59% identifying as Caucasian and 8% identifying as African American.
The town can be classified as predominately middle class as the median household income is $62,422 (City Data, 2011). Lucy completed some college and works full-time as a manager of a credit union. She lives in a three-bedroom house with her oldest son, her younger son, James, who is now 15, and her husband. James is a lively young man with autism who is on the moderate/severe side of the spectrum. He is an exceptional swimmer and participates in his high school general P. E. program. He struggles with social interactions and has very little expressive language.
He has learned to use a GO TALK to communicate functionally. James is very sensitive to his environment and sometimes becomes overwhelmed by loud noises and crowded spaces. Autism affects 1:88 children and the prevalence is on the rise. It is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U. S. It is five times more likely for boys to have autism than girls. It is characterized by language delays, social delays, and repetitive patterns of behavior (Facts About ASD, 2012). Lucy knows that I am in the process of getting my special education credential and that my own family member has DS-ASD. When she was
interviewing me for the nanny position years ago she was nervous and unsure about letting anybody come into her home. After I told her about my background and how much I have learned from my brother she began to open up and become more comfortable with me. She has since then told me how thankful she is for me and how nice it is to have someone that understands her son. Discovering and Reacting to Disability It all started in preschool school. The teacher kept telling Lucy, “I don’t think he can hear. ” And Lucy kept saying, “He can hear just fine! ” The teacher kept saying the same thing so finally she took him to the doctor.
This experience supports the research on professionals in early education or elementary school programs being the parent’s initial source of information about their child’s special needs (Turnball et. Al, 2011, p. 77). Denial was the first phase in the process of Lucy learning to accept her son’s autism. Lucy also said other members of her family were in denial, including her husband and father. Her father told them they “were not disciplining him enough” on multiple occasions. She did not talk about any anger, bargaining, or depression phases before finding acceptance (The Grieving Process ppt, 2013).
Lucy has immense inner strength that I truly admire. After a doctor diagnosed James, Lucy and Chris told their family and her mother pushed her to get extra support. Lucy tells me she probably wouldn’t have ever done gone for it if it weren’t for her mother because they have always worked for everything they had and lively comfortably and didn’t want to ask for help. A person’s culture may affect treatment decisions and is often associated with certain socioeconomic or geographical constraints related to accessing care” (Mandell & Novak, 2005, p. 113).
Reaching out for support was not something the family wanted to do and because they lived in San Pedro, accessing the right services often required traveling long distances. Educators must recognize the relationship between status and our society’s symbols of success (holding a job, having a place to live, and being independent). As an educated service provider, I am always caught off guard by a family’s hesitation about pursuing services (even my own family never sought out extra help). My professional experience has ingrained in me the importance of early intervention.
Many “African-American families seek help from family, friends and church groups before they will get professional help for their child (Dyches et al. , 2004)” (Litten, 2008, p. 5). Lucy’s perspective and her mother’s reaction had both been influenced by her experience with her sister, who was developmentally delayed as well. She said her mother wished she had gone and gotten services for her. But when they were growing up, Lucy said, “It wasn’t something you did. Our family was poor. We did whatever we did to survive and both of my parents worked.
” Educators need to keep the roles of culture, poverty, and historical perspectives in mind as we work with these families because they have an impact on the attitudes and behaviors of families with exceptional children. In Lucy’s family growing up, there was a lack of awareness about the availability of services. As educators, we must consider the lack of awareness and the socioeconomic factors that prevent certain families from taking advantage of the services that they are entitled to. We can’t expect them to advocate if they aren’t aware of what is available.
We must take on this role. Teacher strategy #1: Fairness is When a Child Gets What He/She Needs Over the years, Lucy and James struggled with the school’s changing James’ placements. It wasn’t until she came to the school to observe him and found him sitting in a corner of the classroom, on a couch, rocking back and forth for hours with no attention or demands placed on him that she decided to pull him out of the district completely. During their search for a new junior high school they came across programs that were solely focused on vocational skills.
Lucy and Chris felt their son had more important academic skills to obtain before teachers started teaching him how to get a job. They didn’t expect him to be a scholar, but they did want him to have access to general reading, writing, and math curriculum. Education, rather than life skills, was more of a priority for them. They added an inclusion goal in his next IEP. James would participate in general P. E. and math or computer class. According to Kathryn Pitten, “Cultural mores may determine which treatment goals families will accept and which goals they will decide not to work towards.
Also, parenting style will determine which goals are viewed as important. ” (Pitten, 2008, p. 4). Teachers must be responsible for developing a classroom program that fosters the understanding and respect for individual differences and discusses what fairness means to each student. Teacher strategy #2: Develop a Positive Collaboration Between Parents and Teachers Lucy admitted that she did not take an aggressive approach to getting James all of the supports he needed.
Most of the things she learned she “stumbled upon” through conversations with other parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals (all of which have worked out in their favor). She believes she has done the best she can for her son. Once again, awareness was lacking and because of that this family did not get the support they needed until much later on. This is consistent with literature addressing service accessibility in that ethnic minorities typically access services at a much lower rate than their Caucasian counterparts (Balcazar, Keys, & Balcazar, 2001).
Learning how the school system could work for her son was a significant stressor for her. If educators embraced the full reality of the student’s and family’s life and committed to supporting emotional and academic needs (Turnball et. Al, 2011, p. 147) this could help to bridge the gap between home and school. Letting parents know that you believe in their child is sometimes all it takes to give your family’s hope. Teacher strategy #3: Implement Culturally Responsive Teaching Ford (2012) points out that African Americans are the only involuntary minority group.
African Americans live in a society where race affects every aspect of their lives. “The overrepresentation of Black students in special education has been dissected, discussed, and debated” (Ford, 2012). We need to understand the negative effects racism has on our children and be sensitive to the history of previous schooling of exceptional students. Some Moderate/Severe students, like James, are moved from program to program (several times a year). Teachers need to understand that not all children in their classroom have learned the same things and they can’t be taught in the same environment at the same time.
We need to differentiate and individualize our instruction by providing a wide range of materials and utilizing several learning strategies. School strategy # 4: Ensure Each Student Can Identify With Someone One of the best things to happen to James in his freshman year of high school was joining the “Big Brothers and Sisters” program in his local community. Having a role model; someone to look up to, relate with, and rely on has made such a meaningful impact on his life.
Lucy reflected on the first time James was invited to watch the local football team; “His face lit up. He jumped up and down and couldn’t contain his excitement. ” Teachers need to facilitate healthy inclusive relationships school-wide. It is our job to spread awareness about disability and help all students to become sensitive to the beauty of differences. Conclusion James’ family hopes that one day he will be able to live in a supported living community with roommates but like many families with exceptional members, the future is uncertain.
Teachers need to take an active role in the transition planning process and remember that culturally diverse families do not have the same values as those of the dominant culture. (Turnball et. Al, 2011, p. 89). These families deserve our utmost respect and attention. Showing parents that you are interested in their story can lead to unexpected successes. In order to truly do our jobs we must make our professional story a part of their family story.