Err on the Side of Compassion



Teachers were reacting
To an article about a former student
Who had been raped
Before she came to us
Who had not told anybody
Until after she left us

Nobody knew

How can we make sure that we know these things?
The teachers were asking

And they began to brainstorm

Student information system
Digital documentation
Communication applications

And I interrupted.

And what will you document?
You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Then we need to ask, the teachers were saying. We need to inquire and open up that communication, and…

Do you introduce yourself and ask, “Have you been raped?” Or go down the list of many, many, other possible traumas?

You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Because you cannot know.

And did you know… it isn’t your right to know.

It isn’t your place to demand this information. You are not entitled to this.

Yes. Mandatory reporting, is a must
But until you have that trust
You might miss the signs, and the actual danger might be in the past.

Because those signs look different ways for different kids.
Often misinterpreted, or totally misread.

Trauma a year ago feels like trauma yesterday, so the past is now even though there’s nothing to report.

Yes, I know you want to help, and that this information would make it so much easier to do so. I understand this. But you won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

So what can we do?

Err on the side of compassion.

If a student is struggling, assume that there is a good reason for it. Even if you are given what seems to be a weak reason, know that this may not be the only reason, or even the real reason… and err on the side of compassion.

No, this doesn’t mean become a doormat. This doesn’t mean putting up with you or others suffering abuse. I don’t speak of enabling bullying.

I speak of not being the bully.

I speak of creating a safe space. So maybe the student can share with you. If they… so choose.

I speak of empowering student voice. So they can have a say in their education, in their life, and move forward the best way they can. With or without telling you everything.

I speak of holding space. Say, I am here for you, if you need me. No judgment.

No judgment.

Err on the side of compassion.

The student who was a rape victim gained her voice over time. With a stronger voice, she was able to break her silence. And now she is serving as the voice of others.

SHE did this, this healing…. During the time she was with us. She blossomed. Without us ever knowing. We erred on the side of compassion.

So that’s what we continue to do.

For so many other students who come to us this way, this is what we do.

And there’s no app for that. This comes from heart.




See First

pic23What if a student was highly intelligent, perhaps even with stronger understanding of complex concepts than you and me, but was unable to speak or write or type. What then? How would we know? How would we see?

I recently had the pleasure of talking with wonderful parents of a boy who was considered to be nonverbal until he got his hands on a letterboard — a way to communicate that didn’t require fine motor skills. It turns out that he processes auditory information quite well, is very bright, and is now on a path to prepare for a college education likely in physics. That letterboard was a game changer.

His story reminded me of Carly Fleischmann whose inner voice could finally be “heard” by typing. The part about Carly’s story that stuck with me was her dad reflecting on how they used to talk about Carly with Carly in the room, as if Carly was not able to understand. He later found out that she was comprehending everything, and the regret weighed heavy in his voice.

These stories are awe-inspiring, but what about the more mundane stories out there?  There are so many other students who are being assessed by methods that are limited. The limited methods… limit our ability to truly “see” students for all that they are. This is more common than not. One of the problems with most school assessments is that they are limited to “paper and pencil”, or perhaps computerized, tests that required verbal-linguistic skills.

Why do we do this? It’s a cycle. Those who did well with verbal-linguistic skills, along with meeting other neurotypical expectations, are the ones who go on to become the test-makers and evaluators of the test results.

Now it is time to see beyond. The first step is gaining awareness through stories like Carly’s and studies such as the following:

Words Say Little About Cognitive Abilities in Autism by Nicholette Zeliadt, Spectrum News

Interaction Takes Two: Typical Adults Exhibit Mind-Blindness Towards Those With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Edey R, et al. J Abnorm Psychol. 2016

Note that second one isn’t about verbal so much as nonverbal, and the title caught several people by surprise when it was first posted. This reaction shows how pervasive our preconceived filters can be, including in how we frame our research.

To quote Douglas Adams, “See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise, you will only see what you were expecting.”


Evaluating Education Options

How do you get straight answers, avoid bait and switch, and determine what options are best for your child? Whether you’re interested in online or offline, public or private, or homeschooling or unschooling — this overview is for you.

— The most important question you need to ask first.
— Elements to seek and pitfalls to avoid.
— Learn what questions to ask to get straight answers.


No matter who you were talking to – teachers, parents, students – the connections that you have fostered … are really outstanding.

This is one of the things that most stood out to me during the accreditation renewal process. We’re not just a school. We have been called a “chosen family” of eclectic individuals. United in that we’re different. United in compassion. Connected.

And you don’t even have to technically be part of the school. “It starts even before they get here.” Tina, team lead of AdvancedEd noted. They get to talk to friendly voices on the phone, and they get their questions answered, and they get their fears addressed…”

She’s correct. I’ve lost count of how many people I have spoken with on the phone, or even sat down to tea with, just to connect. Now multiply that by how many team members take those calls, and that’s how many lives we have the privilege of touching. It doesn’t even matter if the school itself is the solution, and sometimes other options are recommended. We’re all connected. That connection is honored.

“That’s a critical component on why students are successful in this school.” Tina concluded. “They really are supported individually by multiple people. And that just makes all the difference.”

Yes. Yes it does.

Synesthesia: Do You Hear in Color?

rotation_shape_rainbow_colors_16416_2560x1440[Updated from April 08, 2009] Do you hear in color?  Many people do! And this is just one form of crossing perceptual modalities. Since this trait can impact learning, it is important to be aware of it and how it can be a gift or a challenge – or both!

I have always associated colors with different things such as sounds, words/concepts, days/months, and even letters/numbers. I also perceive all of these, and many other things, to have genders and personalities. My first clue that not everyone thought this way was when, as a child, I asked my grandmother if my ring finger was a girl or a boy. She told me that all of my fingers were girls because I am a girl. I decided to not ask Grandma these types of questions.

There are tests you can take, but they have some limitations. My scores on a battery of tests I took range from .36 to .76, and anything below 1.0 is considered synesthesia.  The tricky part for me is that I sometimes perceive more than one color as well as textures (thick liquid, metal, etc.), and the battery of tests didn’t account for this.  Also, colors can cause emotional and even physical reactions, especially with certain hues or color combinations. A thing I wasn’t tested for was my association with physical sensations and pitches/frequencies of sound.

People who have this “sensory crossing” are impacted in how they perceive and process information, which includes learning.  It makes the perceptual modality aspect of “learning styles” a bit more complex.  However, it can also be used to one’s advantage (i.e. color-coding notes or using different highlighters, or associating different music, etc.); it is a very personalized process for each person.

Sometimes there can be modality interference; for example, what if a teacher’s concept map or feedback put things in colors that don’t match what the student’s perception is of those concepts?  In my experience, this can be rather distracting! Ideally, the student would be able to adjust the colors to match his or her perceptions.

By the way, there seems to be a genetic link. My youngest daughter has strong synesthesia associations; however, they are different from mine as there is no link for what the actual associations will be.

Think you might experience synesthesia?  If so, you can try one or more tests:

I would love to hear what your results were!

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