December 9, 2009

Guest blog by Tracy Lyons, Junior (Math major with ESS and Theology minors) at Notre Dame

When I walked into the classroom today, one of the first things I noticed was that Emilie was using her walker. She usually uses her walker outside during recess, but is always in her wheelchair in the classroom, so I was shocked. One of the teachers told me that she had been using her walker most of the day, and had used it to walk around the entire school that morning. “She’s so determined,” the teacher then said. Emilie then stepped away from her walker so she was standing on her own. She took a few steps and then began to fall, but every time the teacher put her walker back in reach, Emilie moved away from it. It was amazing to watch this little girl walk. If you had asked me at the beginning of the semester, I would have said Emilie would be in her wheelchair forever, but now I see that does not necessarily have to be the case and I think she is just going to become more and more mobile.

This afternoon, the younger classes were practicing for their Christmas play. Sitting in the hall for an hour watching this rehearsal was one of the most interesting experiences I have had at Riverside. I was not sure how all the students would be included in such a production, especially as many are non-verbal or in wheelchairs or both. The unique and creative ways the teachers found to incorporate each member of the class into their class’s scene was incredible. Lucinda in my classroom is the only child with significant verbal ability, so she was the only one with a speaking part. She is shy about speaking, so she only has one line that she repeats throughout the scene, but that is perfect for her. In other class, a student who is in a wheelchair and cannot talk has a Big Mac – a button with a pre-recorded sound – to press when her character has a line.

As today was my last day in the classroom because my class is going on a field trip next Thursday, I have been thinking about this experience as a whole. When it came to me that I would never see these children again, I realized how upset I was about it. I have watched these children grow and do things I thought were impossible (like Emilie walking today or Lucinda speaking in a play) and now I have to leave them forever. I know that I will keep the class with me for a long time, but what is more upsetting is that these children will most likely not remember me and will never think back to the experiences we shared. My respect for the teachers and assistants at Riverside and all schools for people with disabilities grew immensely today as I imagined how many wonderful experiences they share with students every year that they remember but that the students do not or cannot communicate that they do.