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"Reading" the Special-Needs Child

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    "Reading" the Special-Needs Child

    A posted update today from

    “How hard can it be?” Someone who does not work with special-needs children might wonder.

    With limited language, fluctuating moods, and a multitude of challenges we can never fully appreciate, often the special-needs child becomes difficult to “read.” The child can become as puzzling as the conditions that plague him.

    This happened for me just a few days ago. With her new dermatological, gastrointestinal, and neurological issues, I knew how taxing my own daughter’s recommended seven-times-a-day medication regimen had become for me. I failed to recognize the effects on my daughter. Despite our doctors’ best efforts, her cognition dulled, her muscles twitched, and her nausea persisted. Somehow she pressed on. I noticed only her perseverance. I did not know her internal battles.

    Then I received a poem. [Anyone who has read Simply Classical will understand.]

    For some children, “speaking” a warning may come through aggressive behavior, dark artwork, the selection of eerie books, sudden isolation, or unusually pensive musical compositions. For my daughter, this poem spoke in words I needed to hear:


    Then again, oh it’s so hard
    To clear my mind of every (push on, push on).
    Times fall, times rise.
    Dream on, just for me (push on, push on).

    Slowly at the break o’ day
    The little bird lifts his head
    And says, “Push on, push on.”
    Strong. Just push on.

    Night by night, and day by day
    We are marching on (push on, push on) …
    Stronger than strong (on, push on).
    Waves on waves, as time goes on.

    On, oh, push on.
    Time does heal,
    Yet it heals its own (push on, push on)
    Push on, til the sun goes down.

    Time doesn’t stand for no man,
    Watchin’, waiting in the sand.
    Push on, push on,
    Push on, into the ground.

    Michelle Lynn Swope

    Tears came to my eyes. “Not my best effort?” she asked, disappointed.

    I struggled to find words. “Your poem is just fine, Michelle,” I said, as I closed the bedroom door. “You and I need to talk….”

    (Into the ground??) After listening to her feelings of frustration and her sense of futility, I made appointments with her various specialists to streamline her care.

    Many times over the past few weeks I had asked, “How are you feeling?” “Do your arms hurt?” “Does your stomach feel better?” But in doing so, I had been reading little more than symptoms. I had not been reading her.

    Now her doctors are listening too. Three of the seven pill dosages have been changed to liquid for faster absorption and reduced necessity for such regimented timing.

    This even allowed us the flexibility to go to lunch today after her neurology appointment. Michelle and her twin brother Michael laughed freely in the bustling restaurant, as the three of us sipped pumpkin spice lattes. With nicely elevated moods, one of them announced loudly [with a phrase I did not realize they knew], “Let’s party!”

    Already in the “big city” for the doctor’s appointment, I said, “You’ll still have schoolwork after we drive back home, but if you’d like, we can go to the library first. You can look for those Greek mythology books you’ve been wanting. The selection will be better here.”

    “Hooray!” one of them said. The other grinned, “For us, that’s partying!”

    This time I “heard” them both, loudly and clearly.

    So eloquence cannot mature unless there be a spirit of harmony between the teacher and the taught.

    John of Salisbury, quoted in The Great Tradition: classic readings on what it means to be an educated human being, Richard M. Gamble editor,


    Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child
    Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., with Foreword by Dr. Gene Edward Veith,