1. Elizabeth

    I think that busybody’s can smell when you’re feeling insecure or defensive about something, so they especially pounce on sensitive subjects. The best thing to do would be to answer in a nonchalant and vague way.

    “Why does your son have a keyboard?”
    “Oh, the teacher suggested it. Thought it might be helpful for him to have one.”
    “But why????”
    “We’re just trying it out, see how it goes. Anyway, I noticed your son’s pants were torn the other day – is he ok???” (or similar diversion tactic, known to some as “bean-dipping.”)

    If you become haughty with a busybody, as in “it’s not something I see the need to continue discussing,” that is like waving a big red flag saying – “I’m insecure and defensive about this! Press harder! This is a gossip-worthy tidbit!” And that is exactly what you don’t want.

  2. Zakafury

    As a special education teacher I would like to add a request.

    Please do not try to shelter your son from the very idea that he is having a problem other kids don’t have. The most important lesson for a child who might grow up with a disability is self-advocacy. Let him know how to ask his teachers for this accommodation – too many students in his situation cannot articulate their real needs to their college professors because their parents have kept them from needing to mention it to anyone.

    Other kid will eventually know he is getting different treatment, and it is his teachers’ job to make it clear that he is not getting an advantage, just fair treatment. Outside the classroom he will need to express this as well. Don’t make it taboo to say “I have always really struggled with handwriting. When I use a computer I can write clearly as fast as everyone else can without bothering.”

    I think the best case scenario would be to have him respond to this nosy adult by giving an honest answer which makes it very clear that this isn’t something worth gossiping about.

    • Just so you know, while the students have a responsibility as a self-advocate in college (since they are considered adults) and do need to be able to articulate needs/issues with professors, it is policy at universities in the U.S. for the student needing accommodations (such as assistive tech, seating near the front, extended test time, interpreter/CART, etc.) to contact their Student Disability Services Department. SDS then contacts the professors, without giving specifics other than what the student needs to succeed. I like that you pointed out that receiving a keyboard isn’t necessarily an advantage for one with a dexterity disability; I wear glasses/contacts to correct my visual limitations, but they don’t make me read faster than people who don’t need them. They simply place me on a level playing field with others.

      • Rebecca

        I think it depends on the university how the Disability Service Center operates. I made use of one during college for a medical issue. The Disability Service Center provided me with letters explaining the what accommodations I was entitled to and what my responsibilities were in receiving these accommodations. They did not send the letters directly to professors. Now that I am working full time, I am responsible for ensuring that my workplace will be able to work with me around these medical issues. Speaking with professors was great practice for what I have to do in the “real world”.

  3. Rev. Svend la Rose

    When I had that accommodation in middle school, my keyboards were repeatedly destroyed until I went public that there was a disability that required them. Apparently, there was an impression among the people that I had an unfair advantage. If the student is not already openly a member of the Able-Disabled Club (wherefore he need not say which), he should probably out himself to avoid the much greater grief of keeping a secret, replacing a half dozen AlphaSmarts and straining a friendship. If the reticence is the student’s own, for whatever reason, then I agree with the Institute’s answer.

  4. Jerry

    No, this is a really easy situation. It falls under the rule of never letting a good crisis go to waste.

    If the nosy neighbor asks about the keyboard, you merely need respond “we believe that our son will benefit by using the latest technology in doing his school work.” Soon, the gossip will be researching whether her child can use technology as well. [Seriously, EPI, this was not a hard question. Sure you don’t need some help over there?]

    In high schools and colleges, laptops and iPads are no longer uncommon for note taking. There is no reason that younger students shouldn’t use them as well. And there is no need to explain that the reason for the technology is that your son has whatever issues. Elizabeth’s last paragraph is spot on — you can’t win by getting defensive with a busy body.

    (BTW, shame on everyone for assuming that these issues are related to a physical or mental handicap. The problem merely states that the child has “issues,” not that he has a disability.)

    • Based on the facts, the child is “struggling” at school to keep up with his peers – so much, in fact, that the principal got involved (google “IEP”). That indicates a real problem (“issues” is a euphemism). There could be many reasons for this problem, but if all the child needed is a keyboard (the letter writer mentions everything is great now), then the “issue” is likely dexterity (so a physical, rather than a mental “issue”). It should be treated no differently than my glasses/contacts allowing me to see what everyone else sees, or a hearing aid. There is no shame in our noticing an obvious disability (in elementary and high school, educators are required by law to do this), just as there is no shame in having a disability, or having a child with a disability. It doesn’t mean we think differently about the person or the child.
      Would you have felt differently had the parent written about the child’s “struggles” with school work before getting glasses, and now with glasses the child is fine? Would you think we assumed the child had bad vision, or would you think it obvious? And neighbors can still be busybodies about something as common as that. I started wearing glasses at four years of age, and people approached my parents saying things such as, “wow, she’s really young for those. Are you sure those are good for her? She won’t break them by accident and hurt herself?”

      The fact is that the neighbor has no business asking why a child receives an accommodation. Both the EPI and Elizabeth gave solid answers – the letter writer will know which will work best for him/her.

      • Jodi

        I do agree that why a child is receiving special accommodation for something at school is of concern to no one but the parties involved. Responding in a vague, non-answer and change the subject manner, or with a direct, matter of fact response are all reasonable suggestions; much of it comes down to what do you feel most comfortable with? You definitely don’t need to provide any information you don’t wish to share.

        Jerry, as the mother of a child with special “issues” or “concerns”, I agree with your comment that they may not be disabilities … there is a difference.

        I would like to add that a child may need to use a key board at school for more than a physical reason, such as dexterity. My son has an IEP and included in the accommodations for his issues is the option to use a computer in any of his classes. (He is in the 5th grade.) He has no physical problems with writing; it is more of an emotional issue in that his brain clicks along so fast he cannot get his thoughts down on paper fast enough when writing by hand. This makes him very frustrated and he tends to give up or look to take the easy way out with his work. When he uses a keyboard to complete assignments, rewrite paragraphs, etc. he is much more engaged in what he is doing and willing to put more effort into his work. There are all sorts of reasons accommodations are made for kids and I am personally grateful — and pleased — that the need to treat children’s needs individually is becoming so prevalent.

        Jerry, in regard to your comment that lap tops and other electronic devices are common for note taking, I will agree that yes, that is the case in college. However, in high schools, and especially in middle and elementary schools, (at least in my area) they are not common and up until this year, have not been allowed. Several schools in our district are doing a trial run to see how the kids handle the added responsibility and opportunity (the devices are not to be used in certain classes.) Hopefully, it will become more prevalent in future.

        • Just to let you know, then, that if/when your child decides to attend college, in order to receive the key board accommodation, the child will need to be diagnosed with a disability by a professional. It may be dexterity, or it may be a “specific learning disability.” The exception to that is if the professor is allowing all children to use a key board. Because of the distraction of Facebook/YouTube/blogging these days on students’ laptops, many professors do not. IEPs are supposed to address disabilities through professional testing, and not merely “concerns.” Granted, some schools don’t yet have useful IEPs, and may just say something nebulous like “child has a tough time processing.”

          I don’t mean to say what your child does or does not experience, Jodi, since I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting your child, and couldn’t professionally diagnose anyway (lacking a Ph.D). However, I do work with students having all kinds of disabilities at a Big 12 university, so I am aware of ADA law and the nomenclature. I listen to parents/students list all kinds of euphemisms to me such as “learning differences,” “issues,” “abnormal difficulties,” etc. They are trying to refrain from saying “disability” for some reason. There is nothing wrong with being imperfect – we all are.

          • Jodi

            Thanks, Laura, I appreciate your input and information. We have been through several evaluation and diagnostic processes at a leading children’s hospital and it is with the backing (and guidance) of my son’s doctor’s, therapists and teachers/school counselors that we have been able to obtain such a comprehensive IEP — that, and we are extremely fortunate that the administration and staff in our elementary school are top notch. His issues are not categorized as disabilities — they are of another nature, but I do agree with you wholeheartedly; the “label” does not matter, it is about understanding what is needed, working to find solutions to problems, and making things work for all involved.

      • Jerry

        The problem doesn’t say IEP — the problem says “issues.” My best friend growing up is certifiably brilliant; so much so that he got full rides to college, graduated from a top 5 medical school, and now doing very well for himself. Could not or would not write and our teachers were less than willing to work with him. (Probably because he was a bit of a smart alec.) He possibly could have benefited from technology had it been available.

        EPI’s advice — “simply say it’s a private matter and you prefer (or see no need) to discuss it further” — is inconsistent with Elizabeth’s very well reasoned idea that you can’t get haughty with a bully.

        • Jody

          Jerry, once again I disagree with you. The original advice “it’s a private matter and we prefer not to discuss it” is the best. It’s nobody’s business but the original poster.

          By the way, there’s no need to ask if EPI needs help when they post an answer you don’t agree with. Once of the nice things about this board is that we can read answers/tips we might not have thought of ourselves.

          • Jerry

            Jody: My apologies for a delayed response. I don’t check this site daily; please don’t think I’m ignoring you.

            You raised an interesting question about the nature of advice. Jody, some advice is just dangerous. (That’s why society regulates the types of people who can give legal or medical advice, i.e., society regulates who can advise others in matters that can really effect people’s lives.) Just so in this case. As Elizabeth so correctly pointed out, you can’t tell a gossip that you prefer not to discuss a particular matter — it’s the functional equivalent of drawing a big red circle around that issue. Or, in other words, it’s like telling a group of children that they are not to think about elephants for the next five minutes. All that does is attract their attention to the very subject you were hoping to avoid.

            With respect to the question at issue, you’re free to disagree. That’s what makes America so great — no thought police.

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