Wednesday, March 05, 2014

An odd tale of teaching in America

When the boy was very young he screamed and he kicked, he bit and he cried, to express how very much he did not like what was happening. He was anxious, frightened, confused and angry.


A beautiful boy, knuckles just suggestions in dimpled small fingers. He was four, and then five.

They said it was teaching, this is how he would learn. They had science to their credit. And lovely Lovaas behind them.

They came to his home: singly, in pairs and more, adults looming over the little boy with no words. Non-compliant, a biter, his behaviors: proof.

His body, they moved it to do what they wanted.

Full-physical prompts.

Across the room.

Up the stairs.

Hand over hand.

Get the icon. All done.

Ignore the screams, it's for his own good and be careful, he bites.

When that didn't teach him to do what they wanted, they consoled his distraught mother:

"He's done surprisingly well for one so low-functioning."

Then one day the screaming stopped. A woman's sharp cry, fearful silence following. Then mother found son with blood on his face, at the feet of a woman hired to teach.

"He bit me."

They refused to give up their full-physical teaching. Despite objections of mother and son, they had a  district-wide contract and science on their side.

Meetings were had but no one conceded that perhaps it was the teaching, not the boy, that should change.

In time the son healed and so did his mother. A tiny scar the reminder of that long ago time.

They gave up on the experts but not on the boy. They made life about more than schedules and drills. They made it about finding his way in this world.

When the boy found a way to make himself heard, he knew what he needed and could say it at last.  An encouraging smile, a hand on his shoulder. A touch to help him connect body and brain.

That's against the rule they told him. It's widely discouraged. That gentle touch has no science behind it. We have the power, you see, it's for us to decide.

We know you better than you know yourself.

But if you change your mind and need us to tell you how to act and behave, we can do that, you'll remember, you have the scar to prove it. We've got the science and books. And lovely Lovaas behind us.


  1. Anonymous10:13 AM

    I love this. Diane G.

  2. You wrote that so well. It's chilling. We're so glad to not be in that place anymore.

  3. The trust that you had in yourself and your son are what got you to this spot. And Oliver shows that, he trusts that even if he can't do something now he will be able to do it in the future. With hard work and persistence. No greater lesson can we give our kids than the lesson that they can do what they want with determination and focus.

  4. Thank you, Dierdre, for your kind comment. Everyday Oliver shines brightly and our belief in him is vast.

  5. How beautiful, Christine. I love this and I cried reading it.