Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Person Is a Person Period

Several blog posts this week have led me to ponder Charlotte Mason's first principle: "Children are born persons." There are situations in which a disease destroys a person, and my words are not directed toward families in such a crisis. Over the past few years, my roommate in college has watched Alzheimers slowly eat personhood from her mother: "Never a chatty Cathy, in recent years my mother has been silent or nearly so – words stolen away. Her life as a gardener, seamstress, traveler cut short by the inability to walk, to process her surroundings, to navigate the mysteries of three dimensions."

Ellie's mother died last week and already the person her mother was before the disease struck is beginning to revive:
Today my mother lives on; full and whole again. The memories of her life before Alzheimer’s emerging from behind a veil . . . Memory is a fragile thing. Not just my mother’s memory, ravaged by disease, but my own memory, smothered in the reality of my mother’s condition in recent years.

But today my mother is alive again, undiminished and undamaged by disease. She lives on in Jim and Jane and I.

She lives on in all who carry memories of her.

Whether we are dealing with autism or aphasia or just have a disorganized child whose room is nowhere near even the second degree of squalor, it is easy to lose track of the person underneath the fault or label. Sonya Shafer, a fellow autism/Relationship Development Intervention/Charlotte Mason mom, pointed out that our view of the child blurs when we spend too much time wearing our "fault-colored glasses." She related a quick object lesson she observed at a recent seminar.
The speaker grabbed a sheet of paper, drew a dot on it, and held it over his head. He asked the audience, “What do you see?” The immediate response was, “A spot.”

He asked again, “No, what do you see?”

The answer, again, “A spot.”

“No,” he corrected. “You see a good-looking guy in a sweater, holding a piece of paper over his head. That paper just happens to have a spot on it.”

Sometimes, I catch myself obsessing like Lady MacBeth and her damn'd spot! Pamela and I are quickly reaching Week 11 of our homeschooling year, the end of the first trimester. I hope to try exams with Pamela this year. Because of her aphasia, I plan to keep the questions very open-ended and simple: "Tell me what you know about Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, or Rebecca Motte." On Tuesday, I remembered seeing sample exams for Intermediate Math over at RightStart Mathematics, and I figured I better check out their first exam which covers Lessons 1 through 45, the lessons completed in our our first term.

That is when the trouble began! As I glanced over the test, I panicked. While Pamela understands the concepts very well, she struggles with the vocabulary because of her aphasia. I began reviewing words like parallelogram, quadrilateral, and rhombus, hoping to help her link them with her known words (rectangle, square, and trapezoid). We are attaching words to real life pictures and math diagrams to see how many she can soak up: parallel, perpendicular, horizontal, vertical, line of symmetry, altitude, and bisect. Sometimes, it frustrates us both when she gasps for language because she knows the meaning but the gap between meaning and word is huge.

Schools accommodate children with special needs for tests based on their special need. A child with ADHD or LD may take untimed tests, while one with dyslexia can have the test read aloud. A child with autism may sit in a quiet room for tests. Since Pamela has aphasia, I plan to spend the next two weeks creating word pictures as her accommodation for aphasia. These visuals may be enough to help her determine what the problem is asking when it says, "The area of a square is 81 square centimeters. What is the length of a side? What is the perimeter?"

A post at Autism Jabberwocky again reminded me of the importance of looking at the whole person,
Just because you have a label of autism does not mean that you are just a set of negative characteristics- there is much more to a person that just a label of autism. A person with autism can be smart, funny, loving, caring, or any of the other traits that can apply to any other person. The autism label just describes one small part of who a person is . . . When using a label you have to use it correctly. You have to be able to separate out the characteristics that it implies from the person as a whole. Each and every person is much more than the sum of their labels and just because a person has a specific label does not mean that they are limited to being just the label. A person is a person, not a label.

In those Lady MacBeth moments, taking off my "fault-colored glasses" helps me see Pamela as a person and keeps me in line. This week, my heart warmed at her listening to a recording of Ricitos de Oro y los tres osos. Pamela beamed and giggled as she pointed to pictures and echoed the Spanish imitating the vocal inflection almost perfectly. She eagerly did her reading, carrying books and the disc of songs and audio recordings for the week to the car on busy days. Pamela easily set up maps for electrical circuits for science and drew stunning pictures for nature study and sculpture. While her rendition of Open Our Eyes Lord and When the Train Comes Along is slightly off-key, my cup runs over when I hear her sing with such joy and gusto. We even shared an inside joke in math this week when she concluded that finding the area of a triangle of height 3.4 and width 4.6 is the same as that of a triangle height 4.6 and 3.4. She said, "You already had this one! It's the same!" and wrote down the answer immediately.

I will close in the same way, Ellen ended her eulogy for her mother,
And she lives on in the good works that she did.

Let us celebrate.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

wonderful lesson...and encouragement for me.