One of the most important considerations in working with people with disabilities is to give an individualized approach to the person. I had an Individualized Education Plan in my public school years and an Individualized Service Plan beginning in college. I am grateful for the accommodations and specialty instruction that enabled me to be successful in school. I often felt that the services, especially as I grew, were generalized and not customized to what I needed.
I can remember first receiving services shortly after my diagnosis in kindergarten. My preschool teacher thought there was something atypical with my learning, but I was my parent’s first child and they sent me off to kindergarten. I really struggled those early years with visual perception, eye-hand coordination, and social skills. I was diagnosed that year with a learning disability and had to repeat kindergarten the following year in a new school with specialty instruction. I can remember being frustrated during those early years. I compared myself to my peers and wondered why I couldn’t tie my shoes. My peers knew I was different and labeled me as not smart.
I had good teachers who were patient and knew how to challenge me effectively. I also had teachers who compared me to other students or did not meet the needs of my disability. I can remember in elementary school taking a spelling test and the teacher said if everyone got an A we would have a party. Out of my peers, I was the one student who did not get an A on the test, and it created greater social divide between me and my peers.
Teachers who used Vygostky’s perspectives on education worked best for me. Vygotsky’s theory of zone of proximal development is not only the level of challenge within the person’s reach, but also forces them to go further. Individuals with a learning disability and other disabilities do need to have high standards of learning, but not impossible ones. Vygotskty describes scaffolding as an important part of learning. Scaffolding is structuring a learning environment so a student can learn the information. Scaffolding is similar to how you build a house. You can’t move onto the next phase of the project, until the previous one is completed. Often times you may have to go back and fix what might have gotten damaged. I can remember a learning support teacher that wanted us to be on the same math level as the regular education students. I grasped the concept, but began to regress. The teacher kept forging ahead, rather than going back and finding the concept I needed to work on.
My parents did not expect me to get perfect grades or to never get a bad grade. I was expected to try my best by going to class, studying, and making sure my assignments were turned in. I often did poorly on tests, despite studying. Tests have never been an effective way to see what I know. It’s not related to test anxiety. I often feel confident about taking the test, but my brain struggles to process what is being asked of me. Some of the strategies for test taking have been extended test time and having the test read aloud to me. I also have found that breaking information into small chunks daily and not cramming the night before the test have helped.
I have found that disability agencies past school, to have little value to me. Most of the jobs coaching strategies are meant for people with intellectual disabilities, not learning disabilities. I can remember one job coach I had had me circle jobs that I was interested in the newspaper. I kept thinking I was already doing this at home. I was also working two temp jobs at that point that I found on my own. I also found that just because a job services people with disabilities it may not be the right fit. I worked for one disability agency and found that they were the least understanding of my disability and was let go because I couldn’t do the job. Other agencies that claim to help people with disabilities get jobs wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have a driver’s license. The jobs I applied for were not jobs that required a license.
Self determination is also important for individuals with disabilities. The concept of self determination means that the person with the disability decides and makes the decisions based on what they feel is best. I have had well meaning people give me career and life advice that was not helpful to my situation. Most people without disabilities would not want people telling them how to live their adult life. Some individuals with disabilities may not be able to make major decisions on their own. However, if you let them in on making a majority of their decisions on their own it may lead to an easier time getting along.
In order to best serve people with disabilities an individualized approach is needed. The standards need to be high, but not unattainable. Accommodations need to be provided so the person can do the job. It is also important to realize that people do not fit into neat little boxes. An individualized approach needs to occur to address the areas of weakness and challenge the areas of strength. The world needs all kinds of thinkers and workers. An individualized approach and self determination can help a person with a disability to be successful and live the life they wish to.
I have a learning disability and have not let it stop me from achieving my goals. I want to be able to educate others on living life with an invisible disability and encourage others with a disability to be successful.