The other day, for work, I had to go to a meeting for all of the paraeducators (aka aides) in my school district. I thought the meeting would be super boring, because, for one thing, they usually are (often the meetings for paraeducators are somewhat akin to busywork... they don't want to let us just go home or something, but they don't feel like there is anything we really need to know because we're just aides, so they make us look at yet another traumatizing blood born pathogens movie or something) and for another thing, because even the interesting meetings are a little repetitive if you have taken classes on special education and/or worked in special education schools before. How many times can you pay attention to a Power Point about RTI? The answer is, not that many.
This meeting was actually very interesting though. It was focused more on learning about the perspective of children with different special needs. We did some activities to help us understand what it would be like to have disabilities. Even though I actually had done a lot of these activities before in school, it was still fun and interesting.
One of the activities was supposed to show us what it would feel like to have difficulty reading. The activity was based on the Stroop Effect Experiment. You have probably done this before on a Facebook meme or a brain training game. They show you a list of color names, but the names of the colors are printed in different colors. So the color of the font would not be the same as the name of the color Here's an example: GREEN. You get a whole list of words like that, and you have to read the words (or name the font colors, depending on which way you do the test) as fast as you can, while a partner marks your wrong answers.
I was paired with another aide from my classroom. I was the one to mark her answers wrong as she read. She was having a difficult time with it... she kept saying the names of the colors shown, instead of reading the words. And I was kind of being silly about it, like saying "Wrong!" Because the whole idea of the activity was to have fun and be a little silly.
When it was my turn to do the test, I read through them quickly and got them all right. The reason for this was mainly because I have done it before and I know there is kind of a trick to just tuning out the font colors and paying attention to the words. Even though it was just silly, I was sort proud of myself for getting them all right... I was like, "Sweet, I'm a genius!"
And then the aide who I was partnered with leaned over and whispered to me, "I think I did okay, considering. I don't talk about this much, but two years ago I had a serious brain injury and I was in the hospital for several months, and I had to relearn a lot of things from scratch. I still have difficulties with certain things."
Of course I felt bad for somewhat mocking her for making a few mistakes. Except, she didn't really make that many mistakes at all, just three or four. And really, you were sort of expected to make a lot of mistakes. Most of the people did. That was sort of the object of the activity. But because the lady had had a brain injury, she assumed she was having difficulty with it because of her brain injury, in as much as that she's very self-conscious about it.
Afterwards, I realized that this is a lot like me. A lot of times in life I might assume that I am doing a terrible job at something, because I am super aware of my differences. For instance, if it is a really busy day at work and the kids are really hyper, and I am getting overwhelmed and making dumb mistakes such as forgetting to make a kid put his mittens on before sending him out to recess. I would probably assume I am having a bad time because my ADHD is making it hard for me to focus in all the chaos, or that my autism spectrum disorder is causing me to miss social cues such as realizing I was the one who was meant to make sure that student put on his mittens. But in reality, maybe everyone is overwhelmed and making dumb mistakes, even the teacher. Maybe half the kids went out with no mittens on that day. Because we're all just humans and humans make mistakes. Because I am so used to having extra challenges to cope with, I would expect that I am doing poorly and not measuring up... when in reality, I am doing just fine, and maybe even doing better than others because of the fact that I am actually trying so hard to compensate.
Like the rabbit and the turtle story. Because the turtle knows he has the extra challenge of being slow, he decides to work super hard and keep moving no matter what. The rabbit knows he is fast and has nothing to worry about, so he slacks off and even takes a nap, and meanwhile the slow but hard-working turtle passes him up.
Deep thoughts, by Angel the Alien.
Anyways... if you have never taken the Stroop Test before, you can try it here. You do it twice... the first time, the colors are the same as the words, but the second time they are different. You can record your times and note the difference! Let me know how it goes for you!