Should children with profound intellectual and physical disabilities be in the same classroom as those without any limitations? Does it help kids learn that such differences can’t limit friendship or basic interaction? Does it hold gifted children back? Does it deprive the severely disabled of the intense help they need, and give them unrealistic hopes for adulthood?
These questions are being debated by parents, educators and policymakers across the nation. I tend to stand on the sidelines when I see such battles, because I’m not a parent and I have no solid educational theory to guide me.
But I was a child with disabilities, and some of my experiences at the old Institute of Logopedics, now Heartspring, might be instructive.
I attended the institute as a residential student from 1964, when I was 6, until 1974, when I left to attend high school in my hometown of Logan. While at the institute, I received physical, occupational and speech therapy as well as special education.
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That’s too much time and too many areas to cover here, so I will concentrate on my special education when I entered adolescence. Throughout that period, I had a series of young male tutors to help me with math, my weakest subject. My preceptor, Elizabeth Bosley, also helped. She oversaw every aspect of my life at the institute and was the first to give me solid directions to be a writer.
In 1970, Bosley placed me in the “big boys” class taught by Ann Tucker. The class was composed of males between 12 and 23 at one point. (I was at the low end of the age range.)
Tucker was only 25 and had a sweet Texas drawl. She rode herd over us like the toughest cowboy. She had to, with all that testosterone in the room. Most of the boys lived together in a dorm, but that didn’t mean they liked each other.
Besides nipping verbal fights in the bud, Tucker made sure sexual subjects were never brought up, especially salaciously. I understand her stance against obscenity and vulgarity, but the institute treated us as asexual.
I did have a speech pathologist discuss my future relationship with women as an adult, but he discouraged me from hoping to wed. Even though I’m a happy bachelor now, to be told I might not be able to have sex didn’t help me mature. The institute botched sex ed.
Back to Tucker. She emphasized vocabulary, spelling, history and job skills. She also gave us one-on-one attention, no mean feat in a class of 25-30 pupils.
Tucker was the best teacher I had at the institute, but she moved on after two years. The “big boys” class was disbanded, and I was frustrated. My tutor helped but I wanted more.
In fall 1973, I attended St. Patrick Catholic School in the morning. I graduated as an eighth-grader in May 1974 and moved home the next month.
I owe the institute much, but I wish I could have spent my years in Logan. Kids with and without disabilities need to be together. It helps both become friends and understand others unlike themselves.