January 12, 2007
Before the meeting began, the two members of Schuyler's Assistive Technology team who have been working with her from the beginning pulled us aside and said they think Schuyler is ready to move up to the next level on her device. "She's reached the point where she needs more words," they said.
Her device is currently set to display 45 keys at a time. (I forget how many it showed when she first started using it, but she was moved up to 45 shortly after she started school in Plano.) This new setting will bring it up to 84 keys, which is the Big Box of Words' maximum setting. Schuyler will be using the same setting as adults who use the same device.
Well, I can't begin to tell you how happy we are, happy and proud and most of all vindicated. Last month, I was writing in the book about her frustrating days in her little Austin-area school two years ago, so the whole experience is still newly fresh in my mind. That old school district insisted Schuyler would be unlikely to be capable of using this advanced device. Although they obviously never said so, we always suspected the reason they kept lowballing her had as much to do with budget constraints as anything else.
Rather than admit that or deal with the funding issue head-on, they claimed Schuyler was incapable of using the BBoW at all. ("Not educationally necessary" was the phrase I remember most vividly.) Not even two years later, she's moving up to the most advanced setting. It's worth saying again, and if you're a parent out there with misgivings about what your kid's teachers are telling you, I hope you're listening.
They were wrong, and we were right.
And if we'd stopped fighting that fight, Schuyler would be sitting in a cramped little special ed class in Bugfuck, Texas, trying to teach sign language to her teachers who didn't know it and using little pictures on laminated cards to express the most remedial concepts. She wouldn't be educated so much as taken care of, and when she reached the age of seventeen, she would leave them, not as a high school graduate but rather as Not Their Problem.
Instead, she's in first grade with the other seven year-olds, doing the same work and taking the same tests and obsessing over the same Hello Kitty merchandise as all the other seven year-olds.
Her AT team set up the BBoW so that a button in the upper left hand corner would allow her to easily transition back and forth between the 45 count and 84 count setups. It's an all new language, the 84, and it's going to take some time for her to learn it. But Schuyler being who she is, spent the evening on the 84 side, exploring and trying stuff out, only grudgingly going back to 45 when she needed to say something. She's fascinated by the advanced mode. She's going to do what she did with the 45 and with the device itself when she first got her hands on it. She's going to figure it out and make it hers.
Underestimating Schuyler will bite you on the ass, every single time. She doesn't like being told what to do, and she doesn't like being treated like she's retarded. It's becoming clear that she might just be the smartest one of us all.