Education

The Story of Me – Begin…

I could start at the beginning. I could pretend I know my ending, and work backwards. I could give you the bleached version, the raw version…

Welcome to the as-it-comes ‘story of me’, and I’ll begin where I am.

I am at graduation. Graduating from seventeen years, three children, and parenting through school (including my own first academic qualification).

Would I do things differently? Well, that would be to pretend I could be different to who I have been at any given moment. So, if I had my time over (pretending again), I’m guessing it would be exactly the same. Are there things I regret – conversations, actions, reactions, beliefs, values? Of course! Which shows I’ve grown; reflected; learned; processed; become more wholly myself. Not arrived, but arriving.

 

One of the most painful paths of my journey has been going through the school years as a parent (and I didn’t much like most of my own school years). A parent with children who experience the world outside of the mainstream.

There was some seasonal epilepsy, which was met with compassion. We brought with us allergy and eczema, which was largely dismissed, or used to shame and control. Blindness and emotion, though, were largely to be feared, seen as a threat, and handled by protecting ignorance, the status quo. Essentially, self-preservation of staff and systems (even outdated/non-recommended systems) – at the expense of…my children. Not just their academic education, I had been learning how I would facilitate that since before they were born anyway. But their sense of self, individuality, place in the world, contribution to the world, belonging in the world, was undermined at almost every opportunity.

 

To those of you who embraced my children (though few in number), drawing them into community and thereby being changed and changing yourself as a result of being in each other’s worlds, thank you.

Thank you for learning to do and say and model differently to your preferences, so that my children could learn in the ways they needed to. Thank you for engaging with their ways and their person – especially those of you who saw each of my children as their individual selves. Not as one, identical. Thank you to the ones who naturally did these things, and thank you especially to those of you who responded positively to change when challenged by my children.

I thank you because you are/were rare. Like an endangered species, hard to find, at risk of extinction, often being slowly extinguished by systems. Thank you to those of you who are like my secondary school teacher sister-in-law, psychologist/teacher uncle, and primary school teacher/principal uncle; those who are like my mother, who intuitively tuned in to the individual; individuals like my father, who learned to listen and learn from others (experimenting, modelling and teaching what he learnt), and standing boldly for those who had no voice.

 

Sadly, to be a ‘shifter’ in a mainstream system is not easy, painless, comfortable, or the way to make and keep friends easily.

So, kudos to those who will shift and be shifted for the benefit of the other, and consequently for the benefit of the whole… us.

1/1/2018

More Stories to come

Quotes and Questions When Raising/Teaching Students With a Visual Impairment

A couple of quotes that have stood out for me, over the years I have been raising my children who are bright, loving, independent, unique and blind. Also some questions to be continually asking ourselves.

A number of Early Childhood Educators working with children with visual impairments used to tell me they did a lot of “hand-sitting” (as with teenagers one does a lot of “tongue-biting”).

Hand over hand manipulation, and too much information without experiencing, fosters an environment of little or no learning; the information or experience is not assimilated into the life of the learner.

A couple of teachers for students with visual impairments have said that a good integration aide will “do themselves out of a job”.

The object is not to integrate the aide/assistant into the life of the student, but to have the student integrated into their own community of peers; thereby no longer having any need to be present, the student having become independent, and interdependent with their own group of peers.

A past presenter at the South Pacific Educators In Vision Impairment (SPEVI) said that the two skills he used every day of his life were orientation and mobility, and social skills. These were the two neglected for his entire schooling!

All the information in the world, and even access to it, will mean nothing if I cannot move about in, and interact with the world…my world. If I cannot belong, I will have no purpose or hope.

Some questions to leave in a personally prominent, but nevertheless private, place to foster a regular consideration of one’s motives and interactions.

Am I interacting with (name) in ways that make me an indispensible attachment to him/her?

…or…

 Am I interacting with (name) in ways that make my constant presence redundant?

 

 Are my interactions with (name) moving her/him toward independence, and interdependence within his/her peer group?

 

 Who can and will I talk with about resources, ideas that have worked already, suggestions and my own accountability in these things?

I would suggest that the student/child be named (whether this is for school or home) as one is then considering the particular person one is interacting with.

10/8/2015

Cane Verses Guide Dog

By Christine Casey…Teacher, musician, friend

Since I received Lainie, a number of people have asked me how using a guide dog is better than using a cane. I’m still not sure that I can explain it well, but here is a comparison of how I felt the other week, walking along Swanston street with Lainie compared to how I have felt doing it with a cane earlier in the year.
With a cane:
I must listen carefully as concentrating to hear voices, footsteps, traffic and the echoes off buildings, posts and pedestrians helps me to keep myself orientated. Despite my careful listening resulting in a greatly reduced number of collisions with objects and people, my cane is constantly becoming entangled in signs, seats and legs. Every thirty seconds I seem to be muttering an apology. My speed varies considerably as I focus my concentration on dodging things and people and listening for clear paths. The appearance of a street sweeper or similar constant and loud noise causes frustration as it reduces my ability to hear potential obstacles. I secretly wish the Melbourne City Council would ban all buskers as they attract crowds which block my way and require careful negotiation. While I realise that my fellow humans are probably not paying me any attention, I feel incredibly conspicuous and somewhat awkward. By the time I make it to my destination, I’m longing for a rest and some quiet.
With a guide dog:
As the dog picks a path through the crowds, I am able to relax and appreciate the sounds of the city. I hear the tram bells, and notice music drifting out from doorways and I catch snippets of conversation from passing people. A wide variety of scents waft on the air. There is a gentle sun, and a slight breeze. I feel the dog’s movements through the harness handle and follow where she guides, only paying enough attention to ensure that she continues in an overall straight direction and to detect if she should become distracted or uncertain and require encouragement or instruction. My steps flow and there is little need to vary speed, except for especially crowded patches. The music of the buskers adds something special to the atmosphere and I feel a great fondness for them and this city which I now call home. The free-flowing nature of the journey makes me feel equal to my fellow pedestrians and, while I do overhear the occasional comment on the clever dog, I feel as though I blend into the crowd. When I reach my destination, I am somehow both energised and relaxed: ready for the next task of the day.

Fear

By Stuart McDonald, Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

I said in my last post that we can let fear be, allow it to exist in us, to be there, real and potent.
I do not say that we should pander to fear, seek it out or do nothing about it. Rather, I say that fear is something that is legitimate and that we experience for a very good reasons – even if we can’t work out what that reason is…

When we experience fear, our body changes in many different ways. In the brain, certain circuits fire up, and certain hormones are released throughout the body. Our muscles react, our breathing changes, our blood vessels change, our memory systems become more potent and our body wants to do something about the fear. It is as we suppress the fear – as we push it down, pretending it is not there or fooling ourselves into believing we shouldn’t feel fear – that we don’t allow the body to respond.
Not allowing the body to do what it is most naturally made to do – and not allowing it to do that thing over and over again – will result in the body finding other ways to express that fear. Typically, it will be things like: Sudden, explosive reactions to fearful events; sudden angry outbursts; physical and verbal aggression; agitation; constantly tense muscles; anxiety attacks; guilt and depressive symptoms; poor sleep quality; stress-related symptoms – cardiovascular issues, breathing issues, metabolic issues.
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s the body and it’s not stupid, it’s beautiful and amazing and sensible.
You see, there is no “mind-body” connection. That’s an old idea and it’s a little outdated. By about 20 years. What there is, is a “mind-body” (see what I did there? No connection). The mind and the body meticulously interplay, they intertwine and feed one into the other. Your mind and sense of self is only what it is because it receives information all the time from your body – and your body is what it is because it is changed by the mind, which responds to your body (and your external environment).
When the fear instils itself in your body, it is a conscious representation of the emotion of fear that your non-conscious self is responding to. The body is changed because of the fear – there is a perceived threat of some sort – and the non-conscious self makes that fear accessible – you become aware of the fearful changes in your body and interpret those as “I am afraid”.
Now, I don’t know bout you but when I ignore internal states like that – say, oh, I don’t know, like a full bladder – that can end up all kinds of messy. And smelly. It works like this: the muscles of the bladder stretch as the bladder fills up and they constantly send a signal to the brain. When they stretch a certain amount, that signal changes and the brain then brings the signal into the awareness of your conscious self – you become aware that the bladder is (almost) full. It was filling up and the signal was going to the brain all that time but you were only made aware of it once the signal needed to be dealt with.
You only became aware of the signal once the signal needed to be dealt with.
Fear, too, has a signal. It is one that occurs throughout the whole body – it’s more of a combination of a host of signals – there’s the central neurological one, but there’s a whole lot of other ones as well, depending on the thing you’re afraid of. They can be physical stimuli (that muscle is stretching too much!) and they can be cognitive stimuli (There’s no way in heaven I can pass that exam!). Once the signal needs to be dealt with, the body makes the conscious self aware of it. The body was always sending the signal to the non conscious self, but it brings it into awareness when we need to deal with it.
And so, like a full bladder, fear is simply an experience the body wants you to deal with so that everything can feel a little bit more balanced, a little more okay.
The body brings the signal about the bladder into our awareness when it’s time to deal with it. And the body brings the fear into our awareness when it’s time to deal with it. And so we shouldn’t suppress the fear or pretend it’s not there or tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel that fear (you shouldn’t feel you need to do a pee?). It is instead a time to understand the fear; to explore the fear; to ask if the fear is warranted or not, grounded or not in truth? Or is it just my opinion?
When we are children, we do not know how to understand the signals about our bladder. Then we learn to. In the human body, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And so, with fear – if for 15, 20, 45 years we have stopped listening to our fear and have instead been suppressing it, running from it, pretending it doesn’t exist or feeling guilty about it (small or large) then we will need to rest ourselves like children again, children learning to go to the toilet. We will need to learn once again to listen to the signals of fear, to understand the body’s language, and understand what it is about this fear that is important. And like children toilet training, that is a thing that takes time and lots of frustration. And it is most rewarding.
It’s probably best to do this at a safe time, and not when the lion (metaphorical or real) is chasing us. In that case, just run. It’s what your body wants 🙂

Stuart McDonald

The Family’s Experience – For the Educator and Professional

Paper presented at SPEVI 2015

Gina Schmidt

 

 

Smidkids

 

Reading of  “The Seed”

 

Today I have two observations I’d like to highlight.

Perhaps more by way of reminder than anything else, or maybe things you hadn’t considered yet.

 

Both observations I’d like to share relate to our tendency to forget, or at least relegate to the back blocks of our mind the understanding we may already have of our diversity, individuality and uniqueness – both personally, as families, cultures, and communities.

 

One of the most precious, and most threatening aspects of the family’s experience can be the medical and educational professionals’ involvement in our lives.

Sometimes the diagnosis you give, or the therapy you prescribe, or the new way of modeling and teaching you offer is the greatest relief, or hope, or validation for us.

Other times, these things cast us off into grief, or despair, guilt and/or isolation. Hopefully our journey involves some experience of all of these things, which would be considered ‘normal’.

From now on, you are part of our lives and our families. We may come to your office, but often you enter our homes. You observe us as we interact, play, eat, walk, read, cook…I could go on. Because our interactions are connected with many intimacies, as well as general functions of life, we may become close.

Alternatively, we may feel you’re more a part of our family than you do. Or you may feel more a part of our family than we feel you are.

We need to help each other understand what the nature of our relationship needs to be.

We need you to remember that we are a family, as you have your own family. Sometimes we need you to remind us that you contribute to our family, but we are unique and will determine our own family’s path.

 

 

I have experienced both. A very close and personal relationship with professionals built over time and three children. Also the intrusion of some; presuming positions and responsibilities within our family which were not offered, nor welcome, nor helpful.

The latter can be confusing for our children and blur the lines between roles and to whom our children are accountable. The former can be a beautiful collaboration of security, fostering growth and confidence in families – also a tangible illustration of the popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

 

 

My second observation is something we usually associate with those outside of the disability or, specifically this week, the vision impairment community.

 

We all hold to particular biases or preferences. Some biases are unhealthy because they are hurtful and damaging to someone else or ourselves. They may stem from false assumptions as opposed to being informed. Others though, are differences because each of us is unique, and each of our families, cultures and communities are unique.

There are choices we can make in relation to developing our young people or in maintaining the life choice of an adult with a vision impairment, and they are just that – choices.

Choices about the medical procedures we will, or will not embrace.

Choices about learning grade 1 or 2 Braille first off.

Choices about handling reactions to sensory stimulation, or lack thereof.

…toilet training, private or public schools, which piece or brand of technology best suits, city or country…

The list is endless!

I’ve learned that you all have your preferences, as do I. As does each individual, family and professional here.

Helping us to be informed but not overloaded would be the greatest gift of service you could offer us. Perhaps let us know the options, maybe another we can ask. Then help us follow up on the thing that interests us most. You never know, we may end up with the same preferences as you.

 

I’ve noticed that smaller communities are often a reflection of the broader community or culture, but the smaller may influence and therefore be reflected in the broader instead.

Looking forward to our little community being a positive influence in the broader community at large.

 

Let me finish by reading the end of the story, “The Seed,” to you again.

 

…As each one stepped back, and observed the tender plant, they were able to recognize what its needs might be. In turn they also enquired each of the other, to learn from observations they may not have recognized, or had prior knowledge of, to have even been considered.

Most importantly…

…as a team in constant communication , those employed for service to the growth of the new plant – in fact to service of the plant itself – began to listen for, and hear what the little plant was telling them. They heard and could see when the plant needed moisture, or sunlight, or protection, or space; because they were attending to the needs of the seed, instead of what they wanted to give or to do.

 

The little plant grew tall, and strong, and was borne of new seed, so that more plants could grow, providing clean air, and beauty to enjoy.

 

The workers and the sower lived with much joy, and with a profound, and unfathomable sense of accomplishment, as they witnessed the growth, and maturity, and provision, and beauty of the little seed, which became great.

 

 

This Journey

If I could draw a picture of

This journey travelled on my own,

What story would it tell you,

Which colours would have shown?

 

The beginning would be darkness

New realities unseen

Goals obscured and jaded

Mist and fog my only scene

 

But with you, my eyes are opened

You each shine light on paths ahead

Darkness fading in the wake

Of information shared

 

I see movement, light and colour

A future hope for me and mine

You each brought hue and shade and pigment

If left alone, no sun would shine

 

Thank you all for being part

Of this journey of my life

And for the pieces of your own path

That brought promise into mine.

 

 

15/1/2015

For SPEVI

 

SPEVI 2015 Time Out

Process, progress, organise

Sift and strain and scrutinize

Think, reflect and ruminate

Pre-occupy and inundate

 

Withdraw, compose, concentrate

Stillness, quiet, separate

Settle, soothe, lull and quell

Listen, hear, perceive as well

 

Befit, apply, appropriate

Attend and differentiate

Select, determine, designate

Prefer, elect and allocate

 

Undertake!

 

SPEVI

14/1/2015