View Full Version : Question about parents of children with issues/challenges?

Mar. 14, 2010, 07:45 PM
I have two junior students both of which have a mild disability issue which provides some additional, but not insurmountable, challenges when instructing them, and in both cases I've had problems with parental information.

In one case (girl is hearing impaired and has speech issues) the parents have never informed me of the issue, i figured it out on my own, and we have adapted (though thanks in no small part to an adult student of mine with a hearing impairment who informed me of it upfront, and told me what works).

In the other, after a year of facing a lot of frustration over the child having constant issues with rein length, and with holding the reins properly (lessons which the parents watched, so knew the problem) the mother, discussing another topic entirely, said to me very casually that due to the girl being born drug-positive (she's adopted) she has issues with fine motor control in her hands, and will probably not ever be able to do things like braid, easily shorten her reins, etc.

Well obviously this was a big lightbulb for me, but then I had to take a deep breath because I was immediately somewhat annoyed that no one had told me of this, and here the poor kid and I have been struggling with the same issues over and over and over, and she's probably thinking I'm a moron for not figuring out she can't do what I'm asking, and since I had no idea she had this issue, I'm thinking how hard can it be to shorten your freakin' reins?

So that's twice now I've had parents chose not to share what I consider need to know information with me, and I'm curious if any of the posters here can offer me any insight in to why (I suspect fear of rejection, or the child being treated differently?), and give me any suggestions for broaching the subject in the future (should I face it with other parents)? I'm happy to work with both of these kids, and my adult students, but I can be a lot more effective if I know where the parameters are. For both of these kids, now that we have all the info out in the open, we've been able to make much better progress.

Mar. 14, 2010, 07:48 PM
I'm thinking that it's up to the trainer to figure the best method to suit the pupil's individual learning needs.

After all, one size doesn't fit all.

Mar. 14, 2010, 07:58 PM
I agree completely. But, if I don't know all the information, how can I formulate the best method for each student to use? My assumption is that these parents had a reason for their decision, and I'm trying to understand it, so if there is a next time with another student, I can be more proactive.

Mar. 14, 2010, 08:00 PM
I'm thinking that perhaps they don't like folks to start with presumptions and labels for their children.

Which I'm thinking is fair enough.

When children that don't have special needs come to you do you expect the parents to give you a long list of their likes and dislikes and their strengths and weaknesses and preferred learning styles?

Mar. 14, 2010, 09:39 PM
Well, probably the easiest and most politically correct way to help find out this type of info is in the initial paperwork. If new students fill out a form with name, address, etc..,riding goals, etc... "Any physical, learning, emotional issues requiring extra help?" and maybe list examples: blahblah blah for cochlear implants, blah blah blah for coordination, beeping jumps for vision impaired, blah blah blah.

Also, if these riders are in groups, it isn't going to hurt the able bodied riders to learn some of the other techniques you may decide to use, ie, hand signals for hearing impaired students, different types of reins - rainbow, plaited, laced, widths, and uses for direct, indirect, neck reining, etc.... for students with arthritis, motor issues, back issues, blah blah

You get the idea. I'm with you - why on earth wouldn't the parents let you know there might be some issues for their kid?Maybe it's just that this is supposed to their fun thing, and one place where it doesn't matter if they have "different" challenges. I bet they're non- horsey parents and it never occured to them these things make a huge difference in getting the rider to get the info to the horsey. You could send out new forms to all the old students "for your records".

Once you work in a therapeutic center, you have the opposite problem :) You think everyone has an issue requiring adaptation, they can't process the info as fast as you're asking, when in fact, they're just ignoring you.

Good for you for taking all riders - that kid's getting more fine motor skill refinement skills trying to hold her reins like every body else than any other therapy could provide and she's getting a lifetime sport.

Mar. 14, 2010, 09:47 PM
[QUOTE=Thomas_1;4744548]I'm thinking that perhaps they don't like folks to start with presumptions and labels for their children.

Which I'm thinking is fair enough.

Thomas said it perfectly

The child's privacy is another reason. If these children are old enough to ride than they are presumably old enough to tell you of their challenges in life if they so choose.

With children born drug addicted expectations can play a role in how well they do with tasks and life in general. No one knows how much these children are capable of improving, not doctors, parents, or the children. It would not be beneficial to the child for you to "know she isn't capable" of something like shortening her reins because someday she may be able to do it well.

Mar. 14, 2010, 10:06 PM
I appreciate the insight, I really do. I guess I can see the fear of an instructor changing their expectation based on this kind of information, and I'm sure it's something they've had to deal with in other facets of their life. It's, I'm sure, easy for me to say, well, they should trust me that that won't happen, but I imagine they've heard it before.

We've just been able to make so much more progress now that I know what they can and can't do. The girl with the hand issues has started showing successfully, and the other girl has been able to start jumping. They are both great kids, and it's been a lot of fun working with them. I just always want to do my job better, and felt like I was being hampered by a simple lack of information.

They way it was handled was also just in stark contrast to the adult students I have with challenges. One is hearing impaired, told me everything the first day, and said, I need you to do x, y, and z so that I can understand what you want in the lesson. The other has had a joint replacement, and suffers from a condition that makes her joints overly loose. Again, she told me on day one, we discussed what she needed from me, and we've gone on well.

So it seemed to me their "kid" status was a game changer, and I was trying to understand why, and what I could do better should I find myself in this position again.

Thanks for the insights, keep them coming.

Mar. 14, 2010, 11:08 PM
Well, I had a related experience that may be helpful to consider. In college, I spent a semester teaching at an outdoor learning center. One week I had a student in my group who was a little "off" - easily distracted, needed lots of reminders to stay with the group and be focused. I thought he was just really excited to be outside.

At the end of the week, his regular teachers told me that he was autistic. They had worked really hard to convince his parents that he was high functioning enough to handle a "non-special ed" environment and didn't need special accommodations. They had decided not to tell me he was autistic so they could evaluate if the student really could handle a regular learning environment. They were ready to jump in if things were going badly, but never felt the need to do this.

I wonder if the parents of the children you are working with are trying to throw their kids out in the real world and see if it works and are ready to jump in, but only if they have too? There will be situations in their lives when they'll need to interact with others who won't have info about the background.

I don't know how old these kids are - maybe the parents were hoping the kids would give you this information themselves like your adult students? Or maybe the kids feel labelled at school and the parents or kids thought not telling you would be a way to escape this label.

I do see with the kids you describe that it is important to have info about any disabilities. Maybe you could work something into your liability form for lessons asking people to disclose any type of disabilities?

Mar. 15, 2010, 05:19 AM
I do a heck of a lot of riding AND driving lessons.

I've never found yet that one size fits all. Never ever found that I've not to observe and listen and pay attention to what's working for someone. Never ever found that everyone is able to physically do everything the same. Never found that everyone is able to process things in the same manner. It's the reason why coaching and teaching isn't about just passing on a defined method or saying "watch what I do" or "do it just like me" or "everyone else can do it, why can't you"

Whether someone is just within the range of "normal" or has special needs, I've always found it to be true that people learn, develop and progress better if the lesson is geared to their individual needs and requirements.

I'm sorry to say this but if a pupil isn't handling reins correctly for a year then it's obvious that something isn't right. Now I don't know what you do and how you assess the individuals in the first place but I'm thinking it's that which you need to concentrate on.

Not what people tell you can and can't be achieved.

Before and during every single lesson you have to assess what someone is capable of and plan to engage and raise the capability. You have to be able to know what is working and what isn't in terms of your own technique.

Apply that principle to your lessons and you'll find that rather than wanting to be told what someone can't do and isn't able to achieve that you'll be thinking "Let's see I'm going to challenge this notion and see what can really be achieved"

I've posted previously about work I do for adults and children with disability and special needs with a range that goes from profound multiple physical and learning disability and personality disorders to a "well I would never have first guessed".

I try to look at the individual as the individual NOT someone with some sort of disability that I should have been told about so I could have known right from the start and planned better.

Having said that, I have spent a lot of time reading up on learning styles, talking to health care professionals and particularly to physiotherapists and other therapists about special needs in terms of what I must do and for such as poor co-ordination, poor muscle tone, paraplegia, quadraplegia, learning difficulties, visually impaired etc etc etc.

To me the question to be asked is not what can the pupil do and why wasn't I told that in the first place.

It's what can you do and how comes you never realised that your technique needed to change to get the best out of the individual. Why was this so frustrating and so long.

To do the former in my opinion is labelling and all too often blocks or inhibits achievement. Folks too often achieve only what's expected of them and they start to believe what they can't do not what they CAN do.

Believe you can do more and that you can find a way to help them do that and develop the assessment and coaching techniques to do that and you'll find you unlock potential and find that people surprise themselves and others.

I personally have no problem at all with understanding why someone wouldn't want to come with a child and say "adopted, born of drug using scum", "deaf and dumb so can't understand". Folks who provide opportunity and seek to change the circumstances VERY often understand that it's labelling that impedes or inhibits. When it's a child even more so that can happen. Start by telling a child they can't do something then they'll start to believe it and it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Too often those with disability are patronised, accommodated or treated with sympathy and there's a heck of a lot of discrimination and telling them what they "can't do". Too often disability is about exclusion and isolation and being unable or "impaired". In my opinion MUCH better to think of accessibility and inclusion and empathy and understanding and come at it from what can be done and how you can engage and help to achieve potential.

You might find these of interest and thought provoking:






Mar. 15, 2010, 06:53 AM
Thomas, good post.

Haven's Edge
Mar. 15, 2010, 11:01 AM
Well said Thomas.
and interesting topic in general.
I try to have a brief conversation with each person before or after lesson.. not in a "what's wrong with you way" but more like "how are thing going, what's new, how is your life" I want students to know I am not merely interested in them during their lesson. Also I feel outside events can skew a lesson and its helps to know the person as a whole. (especially teenagers!)
Parents don't always mention limitations, that's their choice, eventually I figure out what adjustments I want to make to help that person learn.

Mar. 15, 2010, 01:49 PM
One of the questions I ask before booking a school program for my job is "Are there any students with special needs?" I need to know what those are and whether we can accomodate them, and if we can't, what the school teacher can do to address it. (So far, I've had one student whose classroom aide, after reviewing our materials in advance, felt that because he was blind, two of the three activities wouldn't work for him--she couldn't adapt them in a way that would allow him to participate in a way she thought was meaningful. The third one, we knew he'd be needing and getting extra help.)

If I had someone show up with a special need without advance warning, I may not be able to teach them. There are things I can do in advance with our activities for a student who's hearing-impaired, in a wheelchair, ADD, whatever, to adjust, but if I get thrown in cold everyone concerned is going to lose something. I won't be as effective for that student, and I won't be able to focus on the rest of the group as I'm thinking about adjusting things for them.

LShipley--I would have been VERY annoyed with those teachers. It's not my job to be the lab rat for finding out whether or not a student is suitable for mainstreaming. Especially since some autistic behaviors can look like acting otu that requires discipline, while I absolutley would not use the same sort of reprimand with an autistic student who isn't misbehaving per se.

I'm REALLY surprised, too, that people think it's a good idea for RIDING INSTRUCTORS to go in cold. Especially when it comes to someone being hearing-impaired (if you need them to hear and respond to an instruction NOW, but don't realize, for example, they're deaf in the ear that's nearest you?) or having physical difficulty holding the reins? They're supposed to guess and play games figuring out that this isn't just someone not listening or who's a klutz but who has a genuine physical REASON for not doing something? What happens when you assume they're just a normally-abled but inexperienced rider and the horse spooks and it's not that they don't know how to use the reins, but physically cannot do it effectively?

How do you adapt your teaching to get the same result but figuring out how to work around a disability when you're expected to play guessing games about what the disability is or if it even exists? Teachers aren't psychic nor are they doctors who can diagnose problems.

Hell, yes, I'd present a program differently to a blind or deaf student--not because I have lower expectations, but because they're blind or deaf! If I want a blind student to make our craft project I need to allow for the fact that he can't see the materials and might need to take longer or do some steps a bit differently to account for his being unable to see what he's doing. If I'm teaching a girl to skate who's deaf in one ear, I need to know so I can adjust how I convey information to her and when. I can waste time thinking she's not paying attention when she doesn't listen and get mad at her, or I can know going in that calling across the rink when her deaf ear is turned toward me isn't going to help much and that I need to have her stop and come in to hear me. I could probably figure that out, depending on the rest of her behavior--but things would go a lot faster for all concerned if I knew going in. I don't see the point for cutsey games of "guess the impairment" if it's something serious or using teachers as testers to find out if a child really can function just like a "normal" kid.

Natalie A
Mar. 15, 2010, 02:15 PM
Is it possible that they truly didn't know that their child's disability would effect riding? Especially if they were not horse people they might not quite have realized the extent of strength/coordination/attention needed for riding, etc. If my health condition isn't going to effect an activity I do, for example, I don't feel any particular duty to tell anyone, so maybe they weren't expecting it to be an issue?

The lesson barn I rode at in college had a spot, I think, for health conditions on the release/info form. That's a really good way to approach it, I think.

People also just generally are uncomfortable talking about disabilities and health conditions, period. So it makes sense that this also applies to riding, even though it probably should be addressed in some way.

Mar. 15, 2010, 02:18 PM
I have not read any replies, I just can tell you it's a common thing with parents that they neglect to give you some of this important info when they sign up.

I used to teach Taekwondo a few times a week and I had a couple of kids in the group that made me wonder.

One kid sounded a lot like he was a tad autistic...I gathered that from parent small talk in the lobby, not from a conversation with the instructors.

That kid was a delight, never mean or anything, but if we had known about his 'quirks' we could have taught him better!

So I did ask the main instructor about 'the question' but he was less inclined to ask, or in 20 years in the Biz did not have faith in the truthfulness of the parents to bother.

So apparently the 'Is there anything I need to know' question does not guarantee an honest answer.

It's mighty frustrating.

Mar. 15, 2010, 03:46 PM
When I was working on my teaching degree, one class had us break down a typical class - Set, Lecture, and Close. Set was to get the kids excited or prepared, lecture was the teaching, and the close was not only a wrap up of the topic, but could also include a brief question and answer session to see how well the topic was absorbed.

Could you try to incorporate this in your lessons. Susie - today we are going to work on the posting trot. To do this, you will need to remember how to shorten your reins, and blah blah the other things we've learned. Then you teach the lesson, and the close could be, Susie, you're doing well posting with the pony's motion, but I see you're still having a little trouble with your rein handling. Can you think of a way that you might be better able to shorten your reins, or how I might be able to let you know when it's time to shorten them? Or if we send you home with a set of reins, would you practice on your bed post (oh, riding homework!)

You've shown yourself flexible with the clients who tell you they have an issue or would like accommodations. Not everyone realizes that they have a problem with a skill. I know people who've ridden for 15 years, and still don't shorten their reins properly, and are only aware of it when you call them on it, yet they are perfectly accomplished riders. So if you do a quick back and forth evaluation with the rider, maybe that would help. For the younger riders, you might have to help guide them towards an answer.

Mar. 15, 2010, 09:09 PM
The thing I hear most often from parents of kids with disabilities is that they want them to be challenged, and they want me to have high standards for them. I can see why, if the parent has chosen to have their child ride with you rather than in a therapeutic riding setting, they maybe haven't told you everything -- they think you'll have higher expectations for their child if you don't go in seeing them as "disabled." This can be a little hard for me to get my brain around, because I just teach kids, I don't have kids, but I'm willing to accept that it's a common way for parents to think. They want them to "pass," to use a loaded word, for not having a disability at all, and/or they want them to be valued for themselves. And there will be a lot of times in their lives when they'll have to get along in a world that doesn't know they have any kind of special need.

Anyway, I've been in your shoes a number of times with kids who either hadn't been diagnosed or who just had learning needs that I had to figure out for myself, the hard way. Like Thomas said, you learn to watch each rider and try to figure them out and just keep trying things til you decide what works. And bonus points if you can build a rapport that lets you ask some hard questions tactfully and talk through the situation with the parent or the rider.

Mar. 15, 2010, 11:34 PM
boy this is a tough one because, ya know, it takes a village and all....

I would want a parent to tell me about their childs strengths and weaknesses. I take it with a grain of salt because until I see that kid on a horse, all bets are off.

I am also very forthright with my students, young and old. I ask a lot of probing questions, like how do you learn best? Seeing and doing? Reading it? Having me break it down into little parts? I have a parental do's and don'ts list I give to parents at the start of my program. It outlines specifically what I accept and don't accept in my program. I don't allow parents to speak for their children. I don't allow parents to put down their children in front of them. I don't allow parents to teach from the sidelines.

I may get answers to my questions but actions speak louder than words. I teach with regards to what's working right now for the student, regardless if it vibes with what was told to me. Having a Teaching masters helps too.

I currently have a young girl who works for lessons on a schoolie. She is extremely shy, the toughest kid I've ever taught. She literally is selectively mute. seriously the most stoned face kid I have ever seen. Went to a show on one of our schoolies. Won three out four classes with the fourth class placing second. She never cracked a smile. It's very hard to know if she is comprehending, enjoying herself, happy, sad. After many private discussions with the mother, it's a problem this child has had since she was a toddler. Outwardly, I act towards her as if nothing is wrong. I talk to the air. I expect her to answer questions but I don't expect her to talk to me just to be a chatty teenager. On the inside, I always have my eye on her to make sure she is safe and doing what is told of her, that she is learning to make her own decisions with the horses as she learns skills. But I don't let on that I think something is wrong with her. I want her to forget her "weakness" and just be in the moment with the horse.

the best step I ever took with her is to finally tell her that it's fine if she doesn't talk. I understood. But I also told her that I needed to know that she was comprehending what she was being taught. so we started journaling back and forth to each other in a school binder. I give her assignments and she brings them back. I leave it really open ended sometimes and others are more specific. Either way, it frees me of the worry that she is even listening to me. I know that I can write it down and move on.

A good teacher adapts...

Teaching is the toughest job in the world. Isn't it awesome

Mar. 16, 2010, 04:52 PM
true, the teacher needs to adapt. but it's a lot easier if you know what you are looking at.