Leaving the principal’s office, Steven looks at his new schedule; it all looks the same, sauf the second period class. Steven was in his second week of school and had to be removed from his French class as the class reached its maximum numbers. He didn’t think this would be that big of a deal, the only thing that changed was his classroom. In fact, the new classroom was literally right below the old one. Steven wondered as he wandered, “how will this change affect me?” He decided it wouldn’t, it was a simple change, a singular variable. The teacher was great (he heard that it was Mr. Casey 😉 ,) and half his class was moved to this new room as well.
As the days start to pass, Mr. Casey notices that Steven has been late every day for class. “What is wrong with this kid?! Does he not like my class? This is second period, how is he late when he’s been in school since 830a?,” Mr. Casey ponders frustratingly. He follows the same basic routine as other teachers, that is, he asks Steven why he’s always late, calls home, assigns detentions; nothing seems to help. When asked, Steven explains that “I try my very best to get here. I promise, there’s just not enough time to get here.”
Finally, Mr. Casey decides he would investigate, hoping to catch Steven trying to grab a smoke between classes or something. He checks with the office to get his period 1 class. Steven’s classroom is surprisingly not far from his previous French classroom –just a couple doors down. He waits in hiding as the period 1 bell rings. Covertly, Mr. Casey follows Steven as he leaves his classroom. Steven takes a quick right, which surprises Mr. Casey a little as the nearest staircase was a stone’s throw to the left. Nonetheless, a simple detour to the main staircase should not make him late for class. Mr. Casey continues to pursue as he starts making mental notes on how Steven can cut his travel time to class down. Steven makes his way down to his locker, and again, Mr. Casey is shocked to find Steven’s lockers is steps away from his classroom door. Steven switches out his books, shuts his locker, and heads back towards the main entrance of the school. “Ah-HA!,” Mr. Casey mentally shouts. “This is it!,” he thought, “Steven’s heading back to the entrance to get his smoke or something. I knew it, I’ve got him!” Mr. Casey follows Steven to the front doors with a sense of pride and excitement as a detective would walk on his way to the courthouse after making the plot turning discovery. Then, Steven does something Mr. Casey would have never guessed, Steven didn’t leave the school. Steven wasn’t smoking, doing drugs, selling smack, running tricks, or playing Pogs. He turned to the staircase and walked back upstairs. Puzzled, Mr. Casey followed Steven with caution. Steven walked past his previous period’s class, past his old french room, and then down the north staircase. “What?!,” Mr. Casey tried to deduce the rationality behind what he had just saw. He hollered down the stairs to Steven. Catching up with Steven, he asks “Steven, where are you going?!”
Steven, puzzled, replies “…to class…?”
“Where did you go, before class?
“…to my locker…?”
“Why did you go back upstairs?”
“…because I had to go to class…?”
“But your classroom and locker are both downstairs, why go back upstairs?”
Steven shrugs his shoulders and starts to search the floor for an answer with a math-induced puzzled expression on his face. “I don’t know. That’s how I’ve always got to class.” Steven was right, it was. The principal had taken special care to make sure Steven understood the class change, as she knew he had a disability and was not good with change. She only told him, however, about the classroom change. Steven never learned that his pathway to his locker would now change. Mr. Casey started to see this pattern of behaviour unfold in front of him. He would spend the next few days helping Steven change his routine to avoid walking all around the school to get his new classroom.
Everyday life situations can be very stressful for people with disabilities. Whether it be someone with a wheelchair being unable to visit his new friend’s house because he can’t get his chair up to the front door, or someone with autism having to brush their teeth with a blue tooth brush instead of a pink one, barriers exist. Steven’s obvious conflict with his chosen pathway was formulated from past behaviours that never changed. Routines are one of the most important goals for success with many people that have disabilities. Routines help us to overcome barriers consistently/automatically, to avoid forgetting things, or to just create a safe place for ourselves. These routines, when left unchecked, can create some conflict. In Steven’s example, his routine was a good habit prior to his classroom change, but became a bad habit once his situation changed. His old habit was no longer accomplishing what it needed to (that is, getting Steven to class on time with all his books.)
My own life has seen many similar situations turn up. We all will deal with change to our routines in different ways, depending on who we are. Myself, I see change, I understand it, I just don’t like to adapt to it. When I find a successful routine, I strive everyday to maintain my routine, tooth and nail. When a variable changes, I get upset and frustrated. No matter the situation, no matter how big, nor how small, it physically disturbs me. I need that “Mr. Casey” to come and help me out of my “rut.” My parents tried to be that help when I was young, but struck with a lack of information, they never cracked my code.
The most challenging part of these routine changes, is that they happened all the time. It wasn’t the big, life altering changes that drove me nuts, but the little unimportant ones. When I graduated high school, I was more disturbed with having to go back for a 6th year than I was when I finally started university. I spend 5 years understanding and preparing to move on past high school, but a 6th year was a change to my plans more than actual university. When my brother started high school at another school, I had to change my morning routines as my ride left earlier; still not that big of a problem. My mom had the day off one day, and it was the end of the world for me. Despite the fact that nothing was actually hindering my morning routine directly, having my mom home was enough of a change that I would shut down that morning and be unable to function properly. Now that I think of it, this explains plenty why my mother and I were always at each others throats’ those mornings. Man, change sucks!
But change is necessary. Years later, and many research projects ago, I learned how these routines affect my life. Today, I am able to articulate, understand, even predict when these changes will disturb my life. My wife is my rock. Don’t get me wrong, she absolutely hates how “stubborn” and “obsessed” I get with small things, but she understands me. I’ve told her plenty of times why I can react like I do, and she helps me to relax and adjust. I never use my disabilities as an excuse for bad behaviour, but I do use it to understand my behaviours. When I start to get upset about a change, my wife is great at walking me through things. She knows that just explaining the changes and how they will affect/ not change my life at all is enough to calm me down. My wife isn’t a psychologist, therapist, mother, or has ever dealt with people that have disabilities. She has come from a place where it’s accepted to see people with a disability as burdens to society, rather than individuals that succeed differently (we are all changing our views on disabilities everyday, only some places adjust at different tempos.) For the record, since having moved here, and understanding more about me, her opinions have greatly changed.
The point being (sorry, stray tangent,) you don’t need a fancy degree or life experience to be a helping hand to someone. We do it everyday for our friends. We see our BFF sitting in the hallway crying about being dumped or cheated on by his GF, and we sit down with them, console them, and try to get them back on their feet. The challenge is that people with a disabilities are different. We need different help, and many of us do not know how to help. Most of the time, it just takes some investigative work. My favourite example is the “lazy” student. A student doesn’t finish his work, many teachers say he’s “lazy.” When you do some investigation, it turns out that reading about some love story that happened 40 years ago is not only extremely unmotivating for a teenage boy, but when you also have problems reading you’ll never get to the point where you can complete your work. “Lazy” is an excuse to not care, as are many other words that allow us to say, “I’ve done all that I can.”
If you have a child with a disability, I’m sure that you can identify the conflicts and struggles that come with it. If you have a disability, I’m sure that you know you struggle, as did I. We all need to take some time to do some investigation. Our society has become better and better at doing this, yet often we continue to avoid finding answers. Organizations like the LDAO and developing programs in our local school systems are there to help. Ask your teacher for resources, ask your principal, your student services teacher, call the LDAO, anything. When you are at your witt’s end with a teenager that has a disability, whether it be socially, behaviourly, or academically, sublimate your own stress and find an answer. You’ll make your life easier, the life of others around you easier, and you’ll find that understanding someone leads to success. I found it in my life, I see it everyday as a teacher.