Saturday, February 5, 2011

Out of my mind

I just read a fantastic book for kids called Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. This is a great book about a girl who has Cerebral Palsy and as a result is not able to speak and has many little motor control. She is, however, incredibly bright and finally finds a way to communicate to the world in the form of this story.
I found this particularly fascinating as long ago I ended up working at a camp for "crippled" children. There I heard about a couple of kids who were apparently incredibly bright but had no way to communicate due to their lack of motor control and inability to have intelligible speech. It broke my heart then.
Twelve years later our school was one of the first that was wheelchair accessible in Vancouver. I had a "special class" for primary children. I had already had a child with muscular dystrophy and then I got Gabriel who again was bright but had severe cerebral palsy. I will never forget how when the special education assistant was out of the room, I started to have my children draw their pictures, and I felt like sinking through the floor as I didn't know what to do with Gabriel.
A day later I had to fly back to Quebec because my father had a massive stroke and suddenly he too was physically almost immobile. I think that really got me thinking about Gabriel and what I could do.
I quickly got used to having Gabriel in my class and like the rest of the school, I fell in love with him. Fortunately I had support in the form of great Special Education Assistants, a speech and language pathologist, a "computer" teacher from G.F. Strong (later the founder of SET BC) etc. We all puzzled together to figure out how to help Gabriel and later Ronnie learn best. I still think my proudest achievement was figuring out how to teach the two of them to read and to figure out that they actually were reading. Also I realized that my other students were happy to draw with or even help feed Gabriel and Ronnie. I can also remember the joy as computers enabled them to have more control of their environment.
Communication boards were the first step to help bridge the communication gap (something that wasn't being used in 1972 at that summer camp) and the computers came a long way just in the early 80's when I had that class. Still life would never be easy for the Gabriel and Ronnie's, and perhaps most frustrating due to their brightness.
Reading this book brought these memories back. I love the writing and I love how the author was able to get so convincingly into Melody's head.
I was a bit surprised that more effective computer access hadn't been found for her earlier but I have been often frustrated along the way with education so this perhaps shouldn't surprise me. I think in British Columbia we are fortunate to have SET BC but it still often takes dedicated professional staff and determined parents to get what these children need.
Melody's relationships with the "normal" children and her family seemed realistic to me. And I liked that the ending is not a happily ever after one.
I am curious to see how my students will enjoy this book.

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