Tag Archives: Learning disability

Running The Show

As a special education teacher in the industry program at Kennedy Krieger High School, I have an opportunity to see our students in a different light than many of my fellow teachers. While they help the kids tackle academic skills and life skills, I teach work readiness skills in Café James—a unique environment where we arm students with critical job skills for careers in the hospitality and food service industry.

This marks my third year teaching in Café James. It’s a huge reward to watch my students become more and more independent in their work. One class, in particular, impresses me daily because I’m especially proud of their progress in the face of the obstacles their diagnoses present. If you walk into the café during this period, you’ll find me grinning with joy at my students who are “running the show” with minimal support. This group of students is what we call an Academy 3 class. Students in this Academy present the most significant need for special education or related services support in a classroom setting, with a disorder or disability which has a significant impact on academic or cognitive function.

Each student has a specific role in Café James, which complements their abilities and offers them opportunities to overcome their personal challenges. The students must each excel in their roles to successfully run the café for an entire class period. Let me take you through a typical day in Café James during fifth period. Continue reading

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Getting Back into the Game

Most soccer players, especially goalies, are known for their fearlessness. Unfortunately their aggressive play and love for the game can translate into time spent off the field, recovering from a concussion.

I first got to know Chris–a charming, hard-hitting soccer goalie who also loves the guitar–after he was sidelined by a concussion. He was hit in the head when, while blocking the goal, he dove to the ground, and the ball struck him in the face–hard–as he made the save. Because of the severity of the blows and his neurological signs, he was airlifted off the soccer field and flown to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, as his stunned teammates, spectators and parents watched.

A short time later, Chris came to see us in Kennedy Krieger’s Sports Neurorehabilitation Concussion Clinic. He came cheerfully, even though he was still experiencing symptoms of his concussion. Still, he wasn’t his usual ball of energy, and he was bothered by frequent headaches. As you can imagine, he was eager to return to the game—but in a safe way–and his parents needed help figuring out when Chris could safely return to the sport he loves.

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A big heart goes a long way

During the two years that I have worked at Café James—a classroom at Kennedy Krieger High School that teaches students job skills in the hospitality industry—I’ve been so privileged to work with Jerome. His shining personality is always hard to miss, even in previous years, just in passing, when he would walk down the hallway past my homeroom. At first, I didn’t know Jerome at all, but I instantly liked him a lot.

As time went on, I watched him interacting with his peers in the halls and in the cafeteria, and I began to realize what made Jerome so special: He is one of the kindest, most truthful, and heartfelt people there is. Everyone likes him and he is friendly and respectful to everyone he meets.

After he was diagnosed with a learning disability, Jerome was enrolled into Kennedy Krieger School’s Fairmount Campus. Now about to graduate from Kennedy Krieger High School, he has been working hard ever since.
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Finding Validation Through Hard Work

When I first started working with Kevin Sargent, he was a freshman in high school, and I was his science teacher. I knew even then that he was incredibly bright young man, who possessed immeasurable potential and a wealth of information that lay stored away, almost dormant.

But, as is so common in students on the autism spectrum, he struggled to apply his knowledge in the real world.

Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in elementary school, Kevin scored well on tests. However a huge part of high school learning takes place not at a student’s individual desk, but in groups that require participation and engagement. For kids like Kevin, that presents a significant challenge.

And so, for a long time, we struggled to convince Kevin to come out of his shell and join the class. He preferred solo activities and hated classroom tasks that required cooperation with others, like lab assignments. He struggled with public speaking even in small groups, didn’t want to try new things, and he couldn’t pick up on the simple social cues that many of us take for granted. You could tell that there was tremendous potential there—I never doubted his academic abilities. But there were times that many of us at the school worried about whether he’d ever be able to fully make use of that ability to build a future for himself.

That was Kevin then.

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Exceeding Expectations

Before I meet a new patient for the first time, medical records are often made available to help me get up to speed on the child’s background and condition. As a result, I usually have a picture of the child in my mind before he or she comes through the door. It’s based on what I know from the medical literature and my own experience, of course, but there’s nothing better than when a patient reminds me of the brain and body’s capacity to overcome.
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