In this chapter, Schuyler’s family decides to move to Plano, Texas, despite loving Austin as a city. They do so because the school system in Plano has an actual AAC department, while the school system in Austin has presented so many obstacles for Schuyler’s growth as an AAC user.
Growing up, Robert knew Plano as a rich and privileged school district. Apparently not much has changed, as he finds out that Plano has a 6 member Assistive Technology department, “devoted to nothing but high-tech solutions for their students with communication disorders like Schuyler’s” The meeting with the team and school principal exceeds his dreams, especially when he discovers that Schuyler is eligible for a class of students who all use AAC.
Those are the basic events that take place, but the substance of the chapter is found much more in Robert’s reflections on and perceptions of public school. During my entire reading of this book, I have often found myself at odds with Robert in a couple of ways:
- I find the way he constantly describes the women he meets in these educational and professional settings quite off putting. This chapter is no exception. He writes, “The principal was impossibly young and pretty…” where earlier on the same page he describes meetings with 2 separate men and does not describe their physical appearances. While his description may seem harmless enough, it highlights the discrepancy between the ways women and men are judged.
- Throughout the book, Robert has not found reasons to trust the professionals who have worked with Schuyler. He has seen his daughter being judged and assessed by people whom have spent only a few hours with her. He has seen teachers take away and turn off his daughters voice, which is especially unforgivable. I sympathize with him quite deeply.
And yet when he writes, “We’d always felt the conflict with her teachers, the idea that we were the idiot parents and they knew what was going to work best for Schuyler” and when he says he knows of, “the disdain that many public school teachers feel toward parents who get deeply involved in their kids’ educations,” my defenses go up. In my 11 years as an SLP at JCPS, I have experienced nothing so harmful to a child as when members of the school team and the home team have an “us against them” attitude. And I don’t know how to solve it. But I do wish there were better and more open communication – the type of communication that we are often not able to have due to fear of lawsuits or fear of having to pay for something or some service that the district cannot afford to pay for. Poor communication and preconceived notions have definitely set back Schuyler on her journey.
Certainly though, this book has given me greater insight to parents’ perspectives and has helped me resolve to actually take time in my IEP meetings to make sure we are all clear. Too often, I worry about how many groups I will have to make up when I am spending time in an ARC meeting, thereby rushing through it. This book has helped me to remember to be present, to listen, and to clearly explain my perspective as much as possible.
Chapter 22- Howl
In this chapter, we finally discover a Schuyler who seems to be on the right track. She is thriving in her AAC class and has found a best friend. If you were like me, you immediately thought Schuyler was the perfect candidate for AAC as soon as you started reading about her. I love to read now about her multi-modal communication system – a combination of sign, verbal and high tech AAC – and how she uses it with her teacher and friends in her class and at the birthday party. At the mall she uses the high tech situation to communicate with Santa, while she later uses her verbal and nonverbal non-symbolic communication with an adversary (both the punch in the face and the howl were pretty effective). We see Schuyler successfully communicating in a variety of settings using a variety of communication modes. And we can finally feel a little peace settle in with her dad. Reflecting upon the incident with the bully at the mall, he writes that he could see that Schuyler, “knew that monster or no, she still had a right to move through the world on her own terms.” And he could see that she would be okay.
Reading this and the previous chapter, I thought about how ideal Schuyler would be as a student. I also thought a lot about this model of the AAC class, wondering whether it would work in JCPS. I feel a constant struggle with giving my AAC users what they need – like I can never do enough for them or give enough guidance to the teachers and assistants. I am thankful that we have Cindy and Brian to help us in this pursuit, because they are invaluable. But I can’t help but wish we had more resources for these kiddos. Again though, this book has reignited my dedication to do all I can to help my non-verbal students communicate in any way possible.