I had been surprised to hear from the parents of a child I worked with 30 years ago. At that time, I was a resource teacher for the state of Arizona, specializing in children with developmental delays, ages zero to five. Their son had been one of my students. In fact, he had been one of my favorite students.
At the time, he was three or four years old, with a diagnosis of “significantly developmentally delayed.” That was all we had to go on. Language was a severe problem, motor coordination was an issue, and he seemed to struggle with sensory input overloads.
But every day when I saw him, he was cheerful and ready to try whatever I asked of him, no matter how hard. He had a great sense of humor, too. He laughed at things that I laughed at, and that gave me hope that I was succeeding as his teacher. That’s when I first realized the value of a sense of humor as an indicator of learning ability.
A couple years ago, while teaching second grade, I received a new student. He was angry, he was unruly, and he had no skills. I mean, no skills. He could recognize only a few letters of the alphabet and numbers up to five. He did not know that two fingers plus two fingers always added up to four. No matter how many times I showed him in those first few weeks, he always had to do it himself and count the fingers to make sure it was true.
But within a few days, I realized that he had a great sense of humor — just like the other boy, 30 years ago. He could make others laugh, and he enjoyed this talent immensely.
At that point, I knew– again — that he could be taught. And while I could not guarantee how much he would learn, I knew he had only begun his education, and it was not up to me to set limits for his development and intelligence. It was up to me to restart the process and let it run its course.