Monday, August 20, 2012

Favorite Reads of the Summer

As summer winds down, I thought I would share my favorite reads of the summer.  I am leaving out the books "The Daily 5" and "CAFE" as I feel they warrant a completely separate post because of everything that is in them that encourages student agency and because we will be working with them through the Literacy for All project this year and so I will be writing about them as we learn more. 

Seeing the Charade: What We Need to Do and Undo To Make Friendship Happen by Carol Tashie, Susan Shapiro-Barnard and Zach Rossetti

This book takes a hard look at how the special education system as it is designed right now plays a role in the social isolation of students with disabilities.  It works through the barriers to friendship for students with disabilities and give some suggestions related to how to overcome these barriers and support the development of meaningful, authentic relationships for students with disabilities.  I thought it was a great book but it is a book of challenge as well because as great as it looks on paper I was left wondering how you take what is on paper and turn it in to opportunities for these kinds of relationships for students with disabilities.  What I felt was the best suggestion in the book was to engage students in the question of how we go about making this shift, perhaps with a type of peer advisory group whose job is not to be a person's friend but to inform adults about the culture of the world they live and possible in points for friendship.  I like this idea.  In fact it was as I read this that I started to see a little seed for a possible masters thesis being planted.  It reminded me as well of the blog "Beyond the Crayon" and student inclusion action group that was created there. 

Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone by Douglas Biklen with Richard Attfield, Larry Bissonnette, Luch Blackman, Jamie Burke, Alberto Frugone, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay and Sue Rubin

This is a powerful book and shows a different view of autism and disability then what seems to be the prevalent view right now.  A majority of the book consists of the stories of people with autism by people with autism.  Some of the people who tell their stories are people who have been perceived as being "extremely disabled".  These people tell their stories are communicating them through either typing or by a combination of speech and typing.  The book speaks (once again) to the need to always assume competence in those that we label as "non-verbal".  For me it was one of those books that reminds me (again) of how much we still have to learn and figure out when it comes to people with disabilities and how important it is not to define their cognitive capacity based on what we have figured out at this current time.  It also speaks to how important it is to always be looking for that communication system that allows someone to show their full potential and until we find it we need to assume complete competence.    

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton

This is a book about social change.  The title is a play on the book "Getting to Yes" because the authors feel that when it comes to social change the best we can do is to get to maybe and then to start to explore what that means.  As I read through the book, I realized that "maybe" might even be more powerful than "yes" because "maybe" has the potential to engage others while "yes" really just creates a plan that others must blindly follow.  The book also talks about complex systems and how change in complex systems happens through relationships.  As I read through this part I thought that this might be part of why my own learning was ignited again when I started to get involved in learning online.  It was through all those points of connection that I started to think differently and started to think about the possibilities which results in acting differently.  It was a timely book for me as there are times when I get frustrated with the slow, non-linear changes that are happening for the students I serve and this book was a good reminder.  This book again started to ignite a bit more of the idea for my masters thesis.  The book talked about "Developmental Evaluation" as opposed to summative or formative evaluation in a social change process.  This is something I plan to dig in to some more. 

A Good Life: For You and Your Relative With a Disability by Al Etmanski

This was my "mommy book" for the summer.  My son is moving to junior high this fall and as we sit on the edge of this transition as well as making changes to his programming, I felt it important to project forward as see if we were focusing on the right things to set him up to live a happy and productive adult life.  One of the differences of raising a child with a disability is that you have to plan these things where as with other children these things evolve and you help but you also know that your child will take sole responsibility for their "good life" some day.  So this summer I started looking for life planning types of books and came across this book pretty early in the process. I was immediately drawn in as this is a book that is written by and with parents of children with disabilities.  These are the experts and the book was born out of a desire to make sure one's child would live the adult life we all want for our children.  It's basically a workbook that you and the team around your child would work through in planning for their future.  But in planning for their future you are actually planning for their now.

The most powerful statements in the book were related to research around what factors result in safe and happy lives for people with disabilities.  The number one factor tied to safety, healthy and happiness is the number of relationships that a person with a disability has.  The other interesting thing stated was that it matters that the people who have relationships with the person also have relationships with each other (like a spiderweb) as this is what accounts for an increased level of safety and happiness.  This book spoke to the idea of developing natural supports around a person.  This book also spoke to a little piece of each of the other books that I've read above.  And again... the idea of that peer advisory group to help us figure out how to 'do inclusion' as a masters project came creeping in.

It's obviously been a great reading summer.  I just want to say that I am not negating the importance of academic learning by focusing this much on relationships as I truly believe that learning happens in relationships and that people with disabilities can have them both.  It does not need to be one or the other.  I can't say that I have a list of things to do as a result of what I've read.  I can say that I think differently and there is a whole lot more "maybe" happening and I'm excited to see where it all goes as we move forward.  

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