David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | david@davidaltshuler.com

“P” is for Parsimonious Perspicacious Panda-monium

Consider Tony looking at the "p" that his kindergarten teacher has gracefully written on the whiteboard. "Panda," she says; "Papa." As the other children look and listen appreciatively, Tony sees the "P" shift and transform. The "p" becomes a "b." Wait a minute: Is that a "p" or a "b"? That "b" can't be for "pen." That can't be right. Could it be that "d" is for "pig"? No, wasn't there something the other day about "d" for "dog"? Can "p" be for "pan" today and for "duck" another day? Why won't the "p" hold still? Why does it keep moving and flipping around? Why can't I remember that "p" is for "pie" and "pot" not for "boy" and "ball"?

As the teacher shows pictures of a "pony" and a "princess," what does Tony--now frustrated and angry--do?

Does he raise his hand and say, "Excuse me, Ms. Hilda. I'm having a visual perceptual issue"? Does he ask if there are other sensory modalities that can be addressed to facilitate his learning style? Does he ask if he can sit out a year, wait until he's developmentally ready to learn his letters? No, he does not. Half the graduate students working on a PhD in education don't know what a "visual perceptual issue" is. Tony certainly doesn't know why the "p" on the board keeps moving and flipping or why he can't remember that "p" is for "pony" and not for "bed." Nor can Tony ask to wait until he's ready to learn to read.

So Tony punches the kid next to him.

Because Tony would rather be inappropriate than incompetent. He'd rather be a behavioral problem than a dummy. And when the teacher points to "pot" written on the white board and asks Tony to read the word, Tony would rather be in Afghanistan than hear the sighs of his classmates and see them rolling their eyes.

For the next 12 years of Tony's life, concerned educators, loving parents, and highly educated mental health professionals will address Tony's behaviors: He's oppositional; he's defiant; he's violent; he has no empathy; he has conduct disorder. He won't do his work; he won't sit still; he won't comply.

But all the "won't" started out as "can't." Until "won't" took on a life of its own.

All the professionals addressing Tony's behavior are looking for the silver dollar under the streetlamp; that's where the light is. But the silver dollar is lost in the woods where it's dark.

He's "bright but unmotivated;" "he doesn't care;" "he could do so much better if he would only try;" "he's so frustrating."

Rick Lavoi told the following story at a conference on students with learning differences last Friday at Lynn University. I'll try to do it justice: After a storm has dropped 18 inches of snow on a Rhode Island school, hundreds of children are waiting for the maintenance man to shovel the stairs. A kid in a wheel chair asked the maintenance guy if he would please shovel the snow off the ramp. The maintenance man is frustrated with the kid in the wheel chair. "I'll shovel the snow off the ramp after I finish shoveling the snow off the stairs," he says. "I have to let these 300 kids in first. Then, I'll shovel the snow off the ramp so you can get in."

The kid in the wheel chair says, "If you shovel the snow off the ramp, then we can all get in."

If we, as educators--and every parent is an educator!--address Tony's needs, his need not to be humiliated, his need to learn using other sensory modalities, his need to understand his learning difference, his desire to read and learn, we will be well on our way to less punching and acting out.



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