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Posted October 10, 2017

Sweet, Gentle Diagnosis

In her weekly message to employees, Supt. Reedy sings the praises of diagnosticians and others who assess, diagnose and work with children with learning problems.

I keep thinking about the stuffed Pooh Bear draped in a strand of pearls atop a shelf in Carla Arnold’s office at the newly opened Aztec Special Education Support Complex.

That sweet, gentle bear reminds me of all of the caring people in Albuquerque Public Schools who have dedicated their careers to making sure our students get the intervention and support they need to be successful in school.

It starts with people like Carla, one of the dozens of educational diagnosticians in APS who assess, diagnose and work with children with learning problems. They work alongside our school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, audiologists, occupational and physical therapists, not to mention all of the school nurses and others who help with screenings and family support.

It takes a special kind of humanity to assist these students, often some of our youngest, and their families. Imagine being the parent of a preschooler who isn’t talking yet, or who is acting out in daycare, or who is showing signs of developmental delay. These families are scared, overwhelmed, maybe even a little heartbroken. Bottom line, they just want what all parents want – a chance for their child to be happy, fulfilled and educated.   

That’s what we want, too. I started my career as a special education teacher, and my mother was an educational assistant in a special education classroom. I know, she knew, how important it is to provide every possible opportunity for these children. We owe that to them. We owe that to their families.

And so APS has three diagnostic hubs to evaluate students, many of whom have made the move from rural New Mexico to Albuquerque to access more and better services and resources. We serve a disproportionate percentage of students with special needs in APS. More than 11 percent of our students are identified as having special education needs – that’s nearly 10,000 children!

Last school year, the district completed more than 7,700 diagnostic evaluations. Early intervention for these students is key, and we have more than a thousand preschoolers in 17 developmental preschool programs getting the extra help they need.

Early literacy, one of my Big 5 priorities, might look a little different in these classrooms. Developmentally delayed preschoolers might need to work on holding a book upright before they can learn to read. Their lessons might focus more on basic behaviors, and much of the instruction is play-based.

The goal is to provide these students with the skills and resources they need to eventually and if at all possible move into regular education classrooms.

It takes compassion. It takes patience. It takes sweet, gentle humanity. I’m thinking again about that pearl-draped Pooh Bear, and I am thankful. 

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