Tag Archives: Education

Why I’m Happy I’m Not Gifted After All

In 1999, I had a psychologcal evaluation done. Included in it was the verbal part of the Wechsler IQ test for children (WISC). The performance part can’t be administered because I’m blind. My verbal IQ score, according to the report, was 154. This indicates I may be gifted.

There were several problems with this test, the most importnat being that I’d had the exact same test a year earlier. Now i must admit the psychologist who tested me in 1998 also estimated my IQ as in the gifted range.

In 2002, I had the verbal part of the Wechsler IQ test again as part of a research project on former preemies. I scored above-average, but not gifted. I blamed this on the new version of the WISC being used and continued to use the score of 154 as my official IQ score and proudly showed it off wherever appropriate. In fact, I used it as my official IQ score up till a few months ago, when I had the verbal part of the adult Wechsler test as part of my autism re-assessment. It showed I have an above-average IQ, in line with my high level high school education, but definitely am not gifted. My verbal IQ as of 2017 is 119.

When I told my parents I suspected I didn’t score as gifted on the test this year, my mother responded with: “You just don’t want to know about it.” She seemed to mean I underestimated my achievements, but did send me the message that I was supposed to be gifted or I didn’t try my best.

IQ, of course, is not a static characteristic. Before the Flynn effect was known, researchers thought people’s intelligence started decreasing in their late twenties already. I don’t know much about the science of changing scores on IQ tests, but I do know many factors contribute to one’s performance. Like the letter written to me at the end of the 2002 research study said, it’s just a snap of a moment. Maybe my IQ did really decrease as a result of my having been out of education for ten years. Maybe the medication I take has a dulling effect on my cognition. Maybe, like I said, the score in 1999 was based on retest bias. I do care in some ways, because I don’t want to be “dumb”. Then again, an IQ of 119 isn’t “dumb” and labeling people with a lower IQ as dumb is ableist and classist anyway.

However, I am also happy that I am no longer labeled gifted. I can still say I’m smart and people will acknowledge it, but I don’t need to carry the burden of being seen as “hyper-intelligent”, as my father once coined it.

There are a lot of ideas about gifted people that just don’t apply to me. Now some of these ideas are really prejudices, so the solution isn’t to distance myself from the community. However, within the gifted community there is also the assumption that people who are gifted naturally struggle with social and emotional development, unless they interact with people of their intelligence level. I embraced this idea before I was diagnosed with autism. I still understand it bears some truth. However, my take on diagnosing misfits is pragmatic: if an approach suited to one population clealry doesn’t fit, then maybe the person in question doesn’t belong to (just) that population after all.

Now you could say I’m blind and (supposedly) gifted, so I really should be given services for blind people who are gifted. In other words, it’s no wonder I struggled at special education, because most kids there are not of my intelligence level, and of course I struggled in high school, because no other kids there are blind. I can tell you though that there may not be many blind and gifted people, but they certainly are there and I struggle with interaction with them too. Besides, no-one ever gave me the opportunity of going to a high level special education school.

I don’t honestly know why, interestingly, people prefer my supposed gifted identity to my autistic identiyt when they want to choose one. I prefer my autistic identity, because it fits better. For others though, there seems to be something inherently wrong in autism and something inherently fabulous in giftedness. This goes even for people who keep telling me that all gifted people struggle with social interaction and behavior so I don’t need my autistic identity for that. Well, why then not say I don’t need my gifted identity for that?

“Pushy Parents”?: A “Pushy Adult”‘s Opinion

There has been some talk around the UK special needs blogosphere about a recent report that suggests parents may be pushing for special needs diagnoses when these are not needed. The report is poignantly called “Hooked On Labels”. It points out that many teachers feel that pushy parents are responsible for unwarranted learning or behavioral difficulty diagnoses. The report does not ask for parents’ views and did not ask anyone to quantify how many parents might be working the system to gain diagnoses their children don’t need.

I understand both sides of the issue. My father used to work at a secondary school with at the time around 1500 students. Of these, at one point, 139 had a formal dyslexia diagnosis. At the time, it was thought that only 1% of the population have dyslexia, hence suggesting a serious overdiagnosis. I just googled it and found current estimated prevalence rates as high as 17%. Assuming that reading ability runs on a bell curve, this would indicate that those only one standard deviation below the norm would be classified as dyslexic. Now I have no clue whether reading ability runs on a bell curve, but if a disability occurs in as many as 17% of the population, in my opinion, it can barely be called a disability. This means the system is failing, not the student. Either that, or parents are being pushy.

I find it interesting that parents are automatically blamed for overdiagnosis of learning or behavioral difficulties. Some teachers surveyed for the report suggested parents were working the sysstem to get accommodations for their children. Some even said perhaps parents wanted these children to enter into more competitive education which they otherwise would not have been able enough for. I do believe there may be some parents who get their children labeled with disabilities in order for them to be able to compete. However, doesn’t that mean that schools are just too focused on competition rather than individual differences? If you need a diagnosis to get your idnividual strengths and weaknesses recognized, isn’t that the problem rather than parents seeking that diagnosis?

I have always, ever since I first self-diagnosed with autism in 2002, believed that, if a child doesn’t cope, either the child has something going on or the system is screwed. I have always advocated for more individualized educational programming, but this doesn’t happen yet.

Mind you, I disapprove of parents seeking labels for their child – or adults seeking a label for themselves – just so they can get into special ed, collect disability benefits or the like. That’s not fair and if it happens, it needs to stop. This is however talking extreme examples. With how restrictive the special education and benefits systems are these days, I don’t believe many people would be able to fake themselves or their children into them. Where accommodations at home or at school are concerned, I don’t think anything is wrong with demanding them. Like I said, the need for labels to qualify for them, is the problem.

Some people see me as “working the system”, too. They don’t deny that I’m disabled – they can’t deny my blindness -, but they do deny that I’m as disabled as I claim to be. I asked for a second opinion when I was given a diagnosis that by some is perceived as meaning I misuse the system. Now dependent personality disorder is a genuine mental health condition, not willful behavior, but even my psychologist has some trouble seeing that. Treatment for DPD is not a kick in the behind to solve your own shit, but even my psychologist has some trouble seeing that, too.

In my case, the DPD diagnosis resulted from the same flawed logic that might get parents to seek learning or behavioral difficulty diagnoses for their children: the need to always have a label to explain every single need a person has. The occupational therapist from the blindness agency said my difficulty making tea wasn’t due to blindness. Another occupational therapist said it wasn’t due to motor difficulties. My psychologist assumed there are no executive functioning diffiuclties, so it wans’t due to that either. Since there needs to be some explanation, my psychologist decided to consider it a sign of dependence and to label that dependence DPD. As a side note, my husband tried to make tea with his eyes closed and it was way harder than it is with his eyes open.

I am often told that I desperately want to be different and that’s why I seek an autism diagnosis. I do see myself as different indeed, but I don’t need an autism diagnosis for that. There’s “highly sensitive”, “introverted”, “intellectually gifted”, and probably others that don’t require a shrink. I don’t even seek an autism diagnosis specifically – I seek recognition of my impairments.

Like I said, I have always felt that, if I fall through the cracks with the support I do get, either something’s wrong with me or something’s wrong with the support system. If blindness could get me the support I need, I wouldn’t have sought a mental diagnosis. For your information, it wasn’t me who sought my first autism diagnosis in 2007. They were professionals working with the blind. If I am just a lazy, unmotivated fatass who willfully misuses the system, I shouldn’t even get a DPD diagnosis – the label for that is malingering.

Back to pushy parents. It is my firm belief that there are as many parents who ask for labels their child doesn’t need, as there are parents who deny their child labels they do need. The solution to both is individualized support.

Hooked on Labels - responses & other relevant posts linky

Adaptations I’ve Used for My Disabilities

A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I described my limitations in as much detail as I could. I had just agreed to settle on a brain injury diagnosis rather than autism, so had to figure myself out all over again. Since then, that diagnosis was revised several more times and I finally decided to want a second opinion. I want answers to what’s going on with me.

The good point of that post I wrote, however, is that I felt free to describe my limitations in a non-judgmental way. As a follow-up, I am going to write a post today on the adaptations I’ve used throughout my life for dealing with these limitations.

The first adaptations I remember using, when I was about four, were not for what most people think of as my primary disability, ie. blindness. When I was four or five, I had to have my left foot in a cast to prevent my heel cord from becoming too short. This problem is common in children wth motor difficulties like cerebral palsy, though it occasionally happens to children with other neurological conditions too. I also had limited strength in my hands, so I got to use scissors which bounce back automatically. When I finally got to use a Braille typewriter, it had lengthened keys which were easier to press, too.

When I went to the school for the visually impaired at the end of Kindergarten, I was introduced to large print adn later Braille. I started learning Braille when I was seven-years-old. Because I was a print reader before I became a Braille reader, I had an advantage and a disadvantage. I could already read and knew my letters, but Braille wasn’t my first written language. I didn’t become truly proficient at Braille till I was around twelve and still can’t read it as fast as some blind people.

Apparently, around age seven, I had enough vision to ride a bike. I didn’t have the balance though. I still don’t know whether it was my parents being pushy or I truly had enough vision to safely ride a bike, but in any case I got a large trike paid for through the city department of disability services. My parents transported it to our new city when we moved when I was nine, even though this required approval from the authorities. I used the tricycle for about five years, until I became too blind to safely ride it even for purely leisurely purposes in my quiet neighborhood.

By the time I transferred to the school for the blind at age nine, I no longer needed most adaptations for my motor difficulties. I could use a regular Braille typewriter and in fourth grade, we weren’t crafting anymore anyway, so no scissors. I had also by this time become a full-time Braille user, though particularly in fifth and sixth grade I still peeked at the large print atlas every now and again. I got a handheld magnifier for my birthday or St. Nicholas around that time, because without it I couldn’t use the atlas. I had a large collection of tactile maps too, which I also loved.

When I was eleven, I got my first laptop with Braille display. I had occasionally used my parents’ computer before then, but had by this time long been too blind to even see very large letters on the screen. I tried for a bit to use a screen magnifier on the school computer, but I quickly learned to use Braille and syntehtic speech on my own computer.

I also had a white cane, of course. I started cane travel lessons when I was around seven, but rarely used my cane until I was fourteen. Then, when I had entered eighth grade in mainstream education, I had realized I was going to look blind compared to all fully sighted fellow students anyway so I’d better use a cane.

I went through school using mostly my computer for learning. We had a number of tactile educational materials, but I rarely used these. I hated tactile drawings, because I had an extremely hard time figuring them out.

In college and university, I used my computer with Braille display only. I also had gotten a scanner, so that I could scan books that weren’t available in accessible formats. A few years ago, I bought myself an OpticBook scanner that is especially good for scanning books. I rarely used it though, because eBooks became accessible to screen reader users in like 2013. I also rediscovered the library for the blind and last summer, like I’ve said, became Bookshare member.

I never used adaptations for cognitive impairments even after my autism diagnosis. I wanted to learn to use some and I still badly want to get a weighted blanket someday. I also am currently exploring adaptations for my fine motor issues. Because I felt more secure this way, I did for a while use a mobility cane. However, it was too long, then when someone had sawn off a piece it was too short. Also, it isn’t safe to use a mobility cane for me without also using my white cane and because of limited use of my left hand, I can’t use both. The adaptive equipment store does sell mobility canes with the white cane look, but these only have the advantage of making one recognizable as blind. They can’t be used for feeling around for obstacles. I could of course use a mobility cane with the white cane look in place of my white cane when walking sighted guide. However, I have learned to use my white cane for some support. The main reason I choose to use my white cane rather than a mobility cane with white cane look, however, is that I feel too self-conscious. I feel that I’m not mobility-impaired enough for this. I do wonder whether I’d feel more confident walking if I had a mobility cane, but I fear people will judge me for exaggerating my disability.

Success

One of last year’s NaBlPoMo prompts for January challenges us to write about a time we were particularly successful at achieving your goals. Since I always made long lists of new yer’s and birthday goals each year, far too long to keep up with, I never succeeded at keeping my resolutions. That doesn’t mean I’ve never been successful. Today, I’m sharing some ways in which I’ve been successful in life.

1. Education. It may’ve been over ten years ago, but I am still proud of the fact that I earned a hig level high school diploma from a mainstream school. I am prouder now that I know most people don’t attach expectations of my current functioning to it. I mean, when I had just fallen apart in 2007, at every phone call to my family, if I wasn’t moaning about my crisis state, or even if I was, I’d be asked when I was going to find myself a job. Now that it’s pretty much known that I won’t find myself a job anytime soon, or most likely anytime, I can celebrate my successful education as the achievement it was. It shows that, deep down, I have some perseverance. Sometimes I credit my parents for this, but it was I who wrote in my journal, a month into high school, that I hated it but regardless I wanted to complete this level of education.

2. Blogging. I still have a blog post in the works about why blindness sucks sometimes, and one of the reasons is I can’t seem to compete on equal footing with sighted people in the visually-driven world of social media. The thing is, I am still a pretty successful blogger, because I’ve been able to keep up a blog for nearly 2 1/2 years now (and four years with my old one). I also get a fair bit of interaction from my blog. Most of all, I do what I love and I love what I do with regards to blogging. I don’t get more joy (or traffic) from posts that have pictures in them than from those that don’t. I think, in a sense, of course I am not a great blogger in the bigger scheme of things, but I’m much more successful now than I was with my old blog.

3. Relationships. I often credit my husband for our successful marriage, but of course, it comes from both direcitons. I can say that one of only a few borderline personality disorder traits I don’t have is disloyalty in relationships. It feels a bit narcissistic to chalk this up as a success, because ideally no-one is unfaithful. I could go on to chalk up the whole fact of my marriage as a success, but that sounds even worse. Then again, this whole post could be seen as a bit self-centered. Let me just say my husband is hugely successful at keeping me as his wife, too. Oh crap, that sounds horrible.

4. Little things in life. I remember once getting an assignment for reading comprehension in like fourth grade about a kid who was in regular education and his brother, a special ed kid with intellectual disabilities. It was said that this brother was successful if he tore a piece of paper. This is of course ahuge stereotype of people with intellectual disabilities, but I mean it to illustrate that success can be found in little things. Like my blogging success, my success in many other areas is relative. I can make coffee with some help. I can put my dry laundry into the closet. I can clean my desk if reminded of it. These could be seen as just as useless to a non-disabled person as tearing a piece of paper. So what?

In this category also fall the daily successes that people without disabilities should also be celebrating. For example, I spent fifteen minutes on the elliptical today and have been exercising four out of six days this year so far. Celebrating this daily success can help us stay focused on the positive and reach our long-term goals. What have you been successful at today?

Test Scores Don’t Determine Ability to Get By in Life

On a Dutch blog by the mother of a child with autism, I read about the impact of IQ on school choice. The child in question is intellectually disabled. I am not. However, I can totally relate to measured IQ impacting the choices made for me regarding my education.

I have a verbal IQ that was at one point measured at 154. I have had many IQ tests other than this one. I didn’t score as high on all. On one, I didn’t even score within the gifted range. Nonetheless, my IQ score of 154 is mentioned in every diagnostic report about me.

This is a verbal IQ. IQ is composed of two components: verbal and performance. My perfomrmance, or non-verbal IQ cannot be measured because I’m blind. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact me. Professionals involved with autism have consistently suspected that my performance IQ is significantly lower than my verbal IQ and this could be one reason my abilities are constantly overestimated. It cannot be measured, however, so let’s just continue expecting excellent, or at least good performance out of me. Or not.

The mother writing the blog I mentioned above desperately wanted her child to have an IQ above 70 so that he could go to a school for children with behavioral disturbance rather than a school for children with an intellectual disability. In my own case, my parents desperately wanted me to score high so that they could convince the special school for the blind to recommend me to regular education. Finally, they needed not just to prove that I am intellectually capable, but that I excel academically, because they had decided I should go to grammar school. I had to have a standardized test score above a certain number and thankfully I scored within the expected range. The special school principal called my parents in total shock, because she didn’t have a clue that I was this capable.

In real life, unfortunately, it takes more than academic excellence to excel, or even to get by. It takes more even than a high verbal IQ. More than a high IQ in general, in fact.

Why do people rely so heavily on test scores to determine what they can expect out of someone? Because my abilities are consistently overesitmated, the autism consultant recommended further testing to determine why I function at a much lower level than my (verbal) IQ would suggest. My psychologist dismissed this idea. I understand, because it takes a lot to be able to assess someone who is blind. Besides, I’m not so sure I’d be able to take yet another exam, as that’s what it feels like.

Why don’t we just understand that people are different? People have different abilities and difficulties and they shouldn’t all have to be Einsteins or prove why they’re not. Yes, I know Einstein is sometimes suspcted of having had practically every neurodiverse codnition under the sun. I don’t care. My point is that, if someone doesn’t get by, they need help and it doesn’t matter whether a test score says they should be able to get by.

Not My Mother’s Daughter: How I’d Parent My Hypothetical Child

One of this week’s writing prompts from Mama’s Losin’ It asks how you parent your kids differently than your own parents parented you. Now I don’t have any kids, and if I did, I wouldn’t get my way on every parenting decision. After all, my husband would’ve been there too, and, the way he views parenting, he’d be the stricter one of us.

I imagne, if I have to be very honest, that my hypothetical child’s upbringing would be similar to my own. I don’t approve of many of my parents’ actions, but then again they were done out of powerlessness. I imagine, agian being very honest, that I’d be quite permissive to my child but would lose it eventually and become aggressive. This is one reason I won’t have any kids.

Ideally, if I had a child, I’d parent them as naturally as possible. I don’t mean eating all organic food and using cloth diapers, as I don’t believe in this. I mean guiding them through their natural development rather than teaching or training them. For instance, I have some strong opinions on toilet training, which some parents take very seriously. I of course know that the skill of using the toilet is important, but I also think that too much pressure will stress the child out. Having witnessed some incontinent adults being humiliated and pressured, I know I don’t want to subject my child to the same unless it’s absolutely necessary. I originally wrote a lengthy, TMI’ish monologue on toilet training and how I would and wouldn’t approach it, but I’ll leave you to read up on natural toilet learning to find out.

My husband and I have had discussions or debates about what education we’d want for our child. I am a traditonally-educated person and went to an academically challenging high school. My husband has had a less traditional route in his education, though he finally earned a high school diploma at the same level I did. Both of us would choose an education for our child that is different from our own, even though we agree that our child would never go to the posh type of high school I went to. I think if it’d come down to it, I’d want a challenging education for my child too, but my heart screams “No!” to pushing my child’s academic limits.

Now that I think on it, my heart screams “No!” at the idea of pushing my child’s limits in general. This may be one more reason why I’d make a bad parent, though I’m not sure. After all, pushing a child over their limits is different from feeding the fire of their curiosity (be it for academics or otherwise). I don’t know whether this is optimism about a child’s natural curiosity and capacity for learning. It could quite likely be fear of overburdening my child like I was overburdened.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Teaching Autistic Children #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day twenty in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today’s post is all about teaching autisitc children. This post primarily addresses teachers, but parents and other interested people can learn from it too.

Children with autism often benefit from as structured an educational environment as possible. In fact, many behavioral therapists say you can’t overstructure with an autistic child. I do however feel that a child needs time to unwind too, because many autistic children have short attention spans and sensory needs. An ideal education mixes mostly structured teaching with free time (such as during recess) where a child is allowed to do whatever they want as long as they don’t harm anyone. For example, during a break, a child should be allowed to self-stim or to just stare out the window if they want.

A good education encourages the autistic child to maximize their strengths. Many autistics are good wirh art, while others are good at math or computers. If a child is academically able, they should be taught at an academically enriching school. Unfortunately, due to the way the educational system worked when I was in school, I couldn’t get an academically challenging education and get proper help for my social, sensory and behavioral needs at the same school. This has thankfully changed.

There are many strategies for teaching elementary school children with autism.


  1. Use the child’s special interests as a way to motivate them for schoolwork. If a school has a theme-based curriculum, or you’re using this as a homeschooling parent, you may be able to get your autistic child motivated for the theme being discussed at the time whether it matches their special interests or not. After all, some autistics (like myself) will fixate on basically anything they can fixate on. If your child only has one special interest, you could use time spent on the special interest as a reward for doing schoolwork and still incorporate the special interest in your teaching.

  2. For visual learners, it may help to use concrete, visual tools to teach math. My (non-autistic) sister had a pen which she could use to learn multiplication tables and use to scribble and doodle with at the same time.

  3. Handwriting is often hard for autistic children because of fine motor deficits. Nowadays, handwriting truly isn’t that importnat anymore, so allowing the child to type is recommended.

  4. Some autistics learn to read best by learning the phonics (traditional teachign method when I was in school), while others learn better by memorizing whole words. Comprehension is often harder for autistic children. You could use cards with a word and picture on them and show the picture/word card while speaking the word at the same time. The picture and word need to be on the same side of the card. This way, the child learns the meaning of words rather than just how to say them.

  5. For daily schedules, some children do best with visuals, while others do best with words, and still others prefer a combination of the two. Some autistics do not understand line drawings and will need photographs of real objects to understand what you mean.


Taking into account a child’s sensory needs may be hard, particularly in mainstream schools. For example, some children will absorb information much better when they’re stimming, but this is often seen as a distraction. An occupational therapist can advise the school teacher on a sensory diet for the child.

An Open Letter to My Teachers

Day six of the recovery challenge asks you to write a letter to someone who has harmed you or has made you feel bad. I could write a number of letters, but then again an equal number of people could write them to me. Besides, such letters are not always meant to be seen by the people they’re about, so the blog isn’t always the right place to post them. I will therefore not write a letter to one specific person, but to a group of people. Originally, I wanted to write a letter to my elementary and secondary school bullies. Then I realized that my bullies were kids just like me, and they didn’t know better. I therefore will address the letter to both the bullies and their enablers, mostly teachers. After all, bullying by kids who don’t know better is bad, but worse than that is the enabling of it by adults who should know better..

Dear bullies, dear teachers,

You, bullies, are too numerous to address individually. Most likely, none of you will ever even see this letter. It is an open letter, published on the Internet, not so much to shame you – which is why I won’t name you -, but to make you aware of the effects you had on me and to process these effects for myself.

Enabling teachers, you, too, are too numerous to address individually. Some of you will remember that I addressed you by name on an old version of an old blog. Rest assured, when I transferred the blog to a new site in 2007, I changed your names. I will not violate your privacy like this again. This letter is not intended to shame you personally, but again to make you aware of the effects of bullying and the inherent disability discrimination in your behaviors. If you ever teach a disabled student who is being bullied again, I hope you’ll remember my advice. Again, this is an open letter, so even if it doesn’t reach you, I hope it will reach teachers of disabled students anywhere.

Bullies, you, too, will most likely remember my name. For some of you, I was the only girl in your sixth grade class. For others, the odd, blind girl in your eighth grade grammar school class. I was the “bitch” to one of you, the “dwarf” to another.

In sixth grade, the only reason even the teachers could give for you bullying me, was that I was too smart. Yes, I was too smart, which is why YOU bullied me. Teachers, this is inverted reasoning. Bullies choose whoever they see as the easiest target. Making a buly victim a less easy target, may help that particular victim (although it is more likely to make them feel bad about themselves), but it will not end the bullying.

In eighth grade, your reasons were more valid, if reasons for bullying can ever be valid. Hint to the enabling teachers: NO THEY CAN’T. I didn’t take care of my personal hygiene. In your words, I stunk. I reacted with blunt comments when you wanted to help me and I didn’t want to be helped. The teachers favored me and some gave me higher grades than I deserved. I understand you had a hard time communicating these annoyances, but instead of going to my tutor, you chose to bully me until the tutor decided to go up to you. He organized a class for you in which you could spew your criticism of me. You eagerly did so, and I was told that if I just took care of my personal hygiene, stopped being blunt and stopped being favored by the teachers, the bullying would stop. It did, for a while.

A quick note on favoritism: giving a disabled student extra time on tests or an aide or whatever when their disability warrants it, is not favoring them. Giving a student a higher grade than they deserve, is. Make sure the school has documentation on the student’s needs: an IEP or 504 in the U.S., a statement of special educational needs in the UK, and I have no clue what it’s called in my own country because such thigns didn’t exist when I was in school; they hopefully do now. Such a document will detail the student’s accommodations and services. Non-disabled students should not be made aware of the peculiarities of the disabled student’s documentation; just say they have a statement/IEP/whatever and that it’s not the non-disabled students’ business to decide on the fairness of accommodations.

At this point I want to address the teachers again. Whenever I was troubled, as I was often throughout elementary and secondary school, you attempted to change me. Seven years into psychiatric treatment, I understand all about personal responsibility, and I understand that if I wanted to make friends, I had to be socially adept. I realize now that I didn’t have the social skills to be a good friend or even to avoid being an easy target for the bullies. That, still, doesn’t make me responsible for the bullying I endured.

You also need to know your limitations. You are not equipped to diagnose (or rule out) autism or to offer social skills training to an autistic student. You are not counselors, you are teachers. I understand you were the only ones to be reached when students saw me in despair, but please know your limits.

Now I want to talk about the effects bullying and its enabling had on me. Bullies, you made me feel like one piece of crap. Then again, enabling teachers, you made it worse by making me feel responsible. On said old blog, I wrote a post about a teacher who had kids vote an autistica student out of the classroom. I know you did your best to keep me in. I realize you, teachers, did what you thought was best given the tools and knowledge you had at the time. This is why I want to tell you to know your boundaries.‘I was undiagnosed with respect to autism at the time, but some of you knew I suspected it and actively worked to get this thought out of my head. This is beyond your professional responsibilities as a teacher.

I want to make it clear that all of you, my elementary and certainly secondary school teachers thought you were doing what was best for me. I know that the school system as it was in the 1990s and ealry 2000s wasn’t good for a multiply-disabled student. I can only hope it’s better now. I just want to say that with this letter, I’ve hopefully made you aware of some pitfalls of teaching a disabled student and how to avoid them.

Lastly, I want to thank my secondary school tutor (if you ever read this, you’ll know I mean you) in particular for making sure the principal didn’t single me out for a celebration of prestigious school achievement for being able to educate a blind student. Thanks for that.

Talking to Kids About Tragedies in the News

The first news coverage I remember registering consciously, was that surrounding Gulf War I in 1991 and seemingly simultaneously, something about Ukraine – probably the five-year anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I remember, because I thought at the time that Iraq, Iran and Quwait together formed Ukraine. I was five-years-old and didn’t have a clue about tragedies. Maybe I did ask questions, and maybe I was worried, as I often was later on when famine or disease in developing countries was discussed.

I was fifteen when 9/11 took place. I realized by this time that America was far away, so I didn’t feel any sadness or anxiety. Children in America, however, even those not directly impacted, often felt intense sadness and worry. Now a large tragedy didn’t impact my country when I was young – the largest tragedy affecting the Netherlands during my childhood was probably the Bijlmer airplane crash in 1992, which killed 43 people. Children of today, however, have to cope with a tragedy that is almost comparable in size to what 9/11 was for the U.S., ie. the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur last Thursday when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and flight personnel, including 193 Dutchpeople. Adults, at least those who’ve not lost family or friends, can put this tragedy into perspective, although with 9/11 in mind, even I am worried for its consequences. Children cannot do this. How do you help children cope with a tragedy like the MH17 crash?

I am focusing here on helping children not directly impacted by a tragedy. If a child has lost a family member or friend in a tragic way, they need extra help coping with the loss of a loved one as well as with the trauma of a tragedy like an accident or shooting. You can, however, reassure children who aren’t directly impacted that they are safe. In a book on coping with trauma I own, adult survivors of trauma are taught that the world isn’t safe, but it won’t get any more or less safe by worrying about it. That is not an effective strategy with non-traumatized children. They need to know that you as the parent, teacher or other adult in their life are there to protect them.

Common Sense Media advises keeping the news away from kids under seven. Preschoolers and Kindergartners are not ready to understand the news and will easily confuse fact with fantasy or fear. My parents had the radio on all the time when I was young, so I registered the Chernobyl and Gulf War news, but made really irrational connections. That being said, the Mayo Clinic recommends that parents do talk about tragedies to their kids, since they’ll likely have picked up on the news somehow anyway.

When kids get older, they start to hear about news tragedies or events from their friends. They still may see news as closer to home or more common than it is, particularly if kids are sensitive. Children between seven and twelve may still make logical errors. For example, a child might worry about their family in Amsterdam because flight MH17 took off there.

At elementary school age, you may start to explain the context of news, especially if your child is intellectually and emotionally mature. You might explain that people have different views and that news programs compete for viewers. You can also start to explain the basics of political or religious conflict. At this point, kids have a strong sense of right and wrong, in the sense that it is all-or-nothing. Therefore, you should be careful not to generalize.

When a child becomes a teen, they will likely start finding the news on their own, without your supervision. Discussing the news with them will give you as the parent a good insight into their developing knowledge and maturity. Common Sense Media says that teens will understand that their lives could’ve been impacted by such tragedies as terrorist attacks. Therefore, it is important to discuss their views and reassure them without dismissing their feelings. They may also want to help people directly affected.

Above all, when talking to a child about a tragedy, the Mayo Clinic recommends telling the truth. Explain the basics and don’t go into too much detail. Avoid speculation on what might be the consequences of the tragedy. Listen carefully to your child for misconceptions, misinformation or underlying fears. Reassure them that you are there for them to keep them safe. If your child asks the same question repeatedly, it’s possible that they just need reassurance.

Encouraging Children to Read

I was an early but reluctant reader, especially when I had to start reading braille. Before then, I had liked to read, although I never quite moved along because there weren’t any large print books for my reading comprehension level. I was a very slow reader in both print and braille. Still am a slow braille reader. That kept me from getting into the interesting stuff for a long while, because for whatever reason, reading speed is automatically assumed to be related to reading comprehension.

I grew up in a family of readers. My father still doesn’t read much fiction for fun, but he, like me, reads stuff related to his interests. My mother and sister are both traditionally literate fiction lovers. The thing keeping me from reading fiction is mostly that I don’t have the concentration to stick to a book. I have gotten to like it more though as my reading speed has increased.

When encouraging kids to read, however, realize that reading is everywhere especially if your child can read print. I grew up with the idea that reading comic books and the closed captioning on the TV is not “real” reading. Indeed, if a child is to be successful at school, they have to learn to read books, but for daily life tasks, it is at least as important to be able to read reminders on the refrigerator. I also believed the misconception that reading from a computer screen is not “real” reading. In reality, this is the most likely source of reading your child will encounter when they grow up. I’m from a different generation than today’s kids, of course, but I for one get 99% of my reading experience through my computer.

There are many good tips for encouraging kids to read. The most important part for me is that reading needs to be a choice, not a chore. Of course, kids will get reading homework. It may seem logical to ask that reluctant readers read more than their school dictates. I for one spent countless nights in fifth and sixth grade reading material assigned by my parents. I know that it is important that kids learn to read as well as they can, and that, with otherwise academically capable children, it’s hard to see them lag behind in reading. However, you can still twist necessary reading to make it fun. Model the right attitude. For example, when I was reading the Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland in sixth grade, my father read it in English to show that he was taking on a challenge as well. This also allowed for an opportunity to discuss the book.

For me, the transition form reading print to braille was particularly difficult. It didn’t help that braille books are not that commonplace in the Netherlands. In the U.S., there is the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest which makeschildren feel special yet not alone. I’m not sure if such an event existed in the Netherlands.

The computer can, for braille readers, be a hindrance to literacy, if they prefer to use synthetic speech. For me, the computer saved my reading ability, as I hate synthetic speech. I don’t know how today’s teachers of the visually impaired encourage braille reading in their students. I do know that the adult rehabilitation center only encourages it for labels and such. I understand that.