Tuesday, July 8, 2008

To Tell or Not to Tell

Reading Disabled and Driven made me think of many parallels that my students face in their school environment. The article talks about a woman who has learning disabilities and is facing difficulties at work. It states, “The years she spent perfecting ways to do her job -- working twice as hard as co-workers to make sure her work surpassed his expectations -- made her disability invisible. And apparently, unacceptable.”

Many of my students face the same difficulties in the classroom and will face them again when they get out into the real world. Unless my students have a physical disability or obvious mental disability, teachers and students expect my students to be like “everyone else.” Most of the time if my students have a learning disability, you would never know it unless you were made aware of it. My students have learned how to mask it in order to hide their disability from their peers. They may act up or act like a clown as a defense mechanism because they feel if you are dealing with their behavior, you won’t notice their learning problems. Many general education teachers get suckered into this all of the time.

One year I taught a boy who was hit by a car in middle school and suffered traumatic brain injury. He had gone from the gifted program with all his gifted friends, to a learning disabilities classroom with students who had learning problems. This caused major problems not just with learning but with socialization also. Unless you know about the accident, this boy looked and acted as everyone else. Unfortunately he was filled with anger at the results of the accident and had extreme learning difficulties that he never had before. Teachers in the general education classroom expected him to be like everyone else and had difficulties with the accommodations because he “seemed so normal.” The parents and I had to fight for every little thing for him which was extremely frustrating. Many times I would have to go to the administration about problems which caused a lot of conflict between me and the general education teachers.

Another one of my students was a charmer. All of the students loved him, especially the girls. He was a very handsome boy and loved the attention. When he was in general education classes, he usually got some girl to do his homework (and classwork at times), but he couldn’t pass the tests. Teachers would accuse him of being lazy, and this spilled over to the parents. Needless to say, this student’s self esteem went right down the tubes. Since he was such a social person, teachers would overlook the fact that he had a learning disability and forget to give him the accommodations that were required. Of course, he would never ask for them or bring it to the teacher’s attention because that would make him different and open to ridicule by the other students.

I work very hard in my classroom on self advocacy. I think it is important that my students understand they have a disability (I don’t usually focus on labels) and think about what they need in order to be successful. Many parents are afraid for their children to know this but I feel it is important for the parents and the students accept this fact and move on past it. I don’t use a lot of time on the disability as much as strategies necessary for success. We talk about different ways to handle situations in the general education classroom including role playing these situations.

I also think it is important that my students develop a portfolio to show future employers. Included in the portfolio are pictures of my students at a workplace as well as recommendations from school personnel. We also include evaluations from employers in this portfolio. I am torn as to whether they should be up front with employers about their disability and sometimes the student needs to make this call themselves during the interview. If they feel it could hinder them getting the job, they may decide not to share this information. An employer is not supposed to discriminate against them because of their disability but this is hard to prove in court so usually goes uncontested.

What do you think? Should students tell a prospective employer about their disability? Why or why not.


Anonymous said...

This is an extremely hard call. Since employers can't use disabilities as a reason not to hire, do interviewees have to disclose the info?

I personally would not disclose the info for fear of it preventing me from getting the job. But I also would not apply for a job where my learning disability would be a major hindrance to my performance.

I think that this is a personal decision that each one of your students will have to make.

M-Dawg said...

As a teacher, I have the lovely joy of working a second job. :-)

My second job is a retail store. We sell dog and cat products such as collars, leashes, toys, treats, clothing (for dogs and people), breed specific items, etc.

The owner of the store uses a small notebook and receipt book for transactions and the use of a calculator to figure out totals. No cash register.

So, if you are "math challenged" like myself, working with money and numbers can be a struggle. I have a math learning disability that was "discovered" in 10th grade.

I was open in the interview and told the owner of the store that even though I struggle with numbers, I find little tricks to help me out but my OCD will be a strength to the store! :-)

She hired me. :-)

Four years later, I still struggle but most days the drawer is even. :-)

Momma Byrd said...

This is tricky. You and I both know it should not matter if the candidate can do the job, however it would more than likely quickly eliminate him/her if another candidate could do the job and had no disability.

My best answer is tell only if there is a high risk of the disability affecting job performance. There are exceptions like when the application asks specifically.

I'm going to have to think more on this one. PS The blog you posted on yesterday is my new one.

loonyhiker said...

fran: I agree. Yet we need to teach students about body language and learning how to read the situation so they can make this decision.

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: thanks for sharing how you handled the situation. I'm sure that will help others. You're right. Honesty and the willingness to try hard will go a long way.

loonyhiker said...

momma byrd: thanks for reading my blog. I feel bad for students who are in this predicament because I can see both sides.

Unknown said...

This was a very insightful blog post. As a future teacher, it is important for me to gain exposure of all the different type of situations I may face in the future. One way to do this is through other teachers' experiences. As for your question, I still believe that many companies practice discrimination despite a person's capabilities and qualifications. It would be best to keep it under wraps for the benefit of the student to have an equal chance of being considered for the job.

loonyhiker said...

nancy: I tend to agree with you. In a perfect world it would be nice if it didn't happen but unfortunately their are people who still feel is alright to discriminate against people for different reasons.