Exceptional Children: Navigating Learning Differences & Special Education

Navigating Learning Differences & Special Education

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It's a rare author who will give away the ending of her new book. But I do so here with great joy, because the perfect (I don't use the word lightly) final words came about as one of those spontaneous moments between parent and child that you just know will remain vivid in your memory forever, demanding to be shared as widely as you possibly can. In the final paragraphs of the justreleased second edition of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, Bryce reflects on his high school years, telling me how he spent that time trying to define himself:"I knew I wasn't 'autistic' and I knew I wasn't 'normal,' whatever that is, so I chose something else. I chose to be optimistic."

This simple statement moved me so profoundly that Bryce decided to elaborate upon it as the topic for the final exam in his writing course, a handwritten in-class essay. He gave his permission for me to share it with you.

I Choose to be Optimistic

By Bryce Notbohm

When I was growing up, I developed the sense that if I'm doing a challenging task, I should always try to take things the simple way. The simple way involves patience; it means being hardworking but avoiding unnecessary complications. This gives me the strength to believe that things will turn out all right for me once the task is completed. If I took what I consider to be the hard way, pushing myself to try to say, do, and be things that I'm not--such as be an extroverted person, when I'm more introverted--it would be much more stressful. Maybe things wouldn't have turned out to be as positive as I hoped, and maybe I wouldn't have been as successful as I've been able to be, had I worried too much about the worst that could happen. Having a little faith in yourself and others is important. No matter what faith might look like to you, what matters is that you're able to see how it makes you look inside yourself--what makes you, you.

My parents always gave me confidence in myself. I chose to stick with it even when, as I grew older, I became aware that other families were different and sometimes felt that I didn't fit in with others. I stuck with it anyway because it's how I was raised, and I never would want to give up the things that I saw in life first. The growing-up time spent with my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and my cousins convinced me to become someone who could see the world not just as it is, but as it should be. I call it "noble optimism," and it is what I am destined to be for as long as I live.

In middle school, my maturity was developing but the people I was surrounded by seemed to me like they lived in a more complex environment. I didn't feel I belonged there. I was concerned that my generation was becoming a rude one. But I still didn't let my faith in myself fly away.

Twenty years into the process of growing into an independent adult, I feel like I've arrived at a much harder step. My emotions have become more intense than they were when I was little, but I have never given up my beliefs. The intensity of my emotions doesn't make me feel aggressive, but allows me to show assertive confidence in standing up for myself better than I did long ago. In high school, I spent most of my time getting to know classmates who were not only people with different skills, but whose struggle in life was similar to mine. We, who all had learning differences, learned that whatever we were taught in the wonderful private school we attended (Thomas Edison High School in Portland, Oregon) would help us succeed and get through life a lot better. The power I was given was strength that I never would have experienced at a public school. It's a pity that this kind of personalized education and the mental discipline it teaches isn't available at all schools, around the world, whether or not a student has a learning difference.

Now in my college years, I feel like I can make my own decisions about how I can best handle my life. Stress is an enemy that's still on the run; like everyone else, I have stress and it affects me, but now I feel I can defeat it next time it returns. In envisioning my life going forward, the choice that I've clarified is something that not only my folks taught me but I've learned for myself as I've gotten older. Keeping it in mind always is a technique that might falter sometimes in a predicament, but the way it makes my heart feel and how it motivates me is why I choose it. This is what I've had all along. I choose to be optimistic.

Award-winning author and mother of sons with ADHD and autism, Ellen Notbohm's books and articles have informed and delighted millions in more than nineteen languages. Her work has won a Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, a ForeWord Book of Year Honorable Mention and two finalist designations, Learning magazine's Teacher's Choice Award, two iParenting Media awards, and an Eric Hoffer Book Award finalist designation. She is a contributor to numerous publications, classrooms, conferences and websites worldwide. See www.ellennotbohm.com for more.

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