When time came for my daughter to enter high school, it quickly became clear that the school’s facilities for teaching independent-living skills to special-needs students were lacking.
How can you learn skills in the kitchen without a kitchen?
How can you learn to launder clothes without a washer and dryer?
How can you learn to make a bed without a bed?
Logical questions, I thought. But crazy looks exchanged around the table during our IEP (individual education plan) meeting gave me the clue that, in the eyes of some, I had just grown another head, again.
Appliances as learning tools? Hmm.
A twin bed in a school of teenagers? Whoa!
We know that life-skills training in healthy habits, household basics, money matters, and safety is essential to independence and job functioning, and can be more important than academics for students with intellectual disabilities.
These students often have difficulty transferring book learning to real life. Many cannot acquire or master basic skills by reading, listening, or watching. They need hands-on practice and lots of repetition.
Did I say repetition? When you’ve got a child with disabilities, numbing repetition can make your head explode.
I am the mother of three once-and-done kids and one over-and-over-again kid.
Three read, listen, watch, do, practice, and learn. Done. That was easy.
One tries for days, weeks, months, years, or forever. She smiles and explains, “I’m still working on it.”
A young adult now, Noni’s been working on basic life skills basically her whole life, making excruciatingly slow though sometimes extraordinary progress.
Like learning to swim. After 15 years – yes, you read it right, 15 years – of beginner lessons and a jillion hours in (and under) the water, hallelujah, she can swim!
To accommodate the need for hands-on repetition of life skills, our high school (after much arm twisting, a story for another blog post) built and furnished a daily living center, with a small kitchen, laundry room, café, and dining and living areas. And, yes, a bed! Shhh.
Here, kids with special needs learn to launder athletic practice jerseys, cook and bake for teacher receptions, serve snacks to the student body while collecting money and making change, keep the space clean and tidy, and make a bed.
Until then, Noni made a lousy bed, influenced largely by the lazy example of her siblings. To be honest, a busy mom has to choose her battles and I was prone to letting this obligation slide.
But at school, learning to make a bed became fun and a source of pride when she mastered it, plus or minus a few wrinkles. She’s been doing it every morning ever since, with a smile and an exclamation, “I did it!”
Better than her siblings.