Special-Needs Q&A (Summer 2015)

Q. How will my special-needs child benefit from literature?Simply-Classical

A. Some special-needs children enjoy messages conveyed through simple picture books. In Frederick, by Leo Lionni, a little mouse cannot assist his family in the usual manner of hard, physical labor. He is not strong like the others. Instead, in days of distress, Frederick shares his small but unique gifts of poetry. My poetic daughter appreciates this book.

An older or higher-functioning child may appreciate more complex stories. My son, a young man with autism, learning disabilities, and mental illness, sometimes wonders about his usefulness in the world; but when he finished A Wrinkle in Time, he urged me to read it. I finally did. The book’s main character, a teenage girl named Meg, is bright in mathematics but “different” in so many other ways that she has social difficulties and gets into trouble at school. “I’m a delinquent,” Meg concludes grimly. She grapples with thoughts that waver from honesty to self-pity. “I think I’m a biological mistake.” “I hate being an oddball.” “I try to pretend, but it isn’t any help …”

Meg’s mother tells her, “Oh, my darling …, your development has to go at its own pace. It just doesn’t happen to go at the usual pace.” In the midst of a grave challenge, Meg receives comfort as from an angel: “My child, do not despair. Do you think we would have brought you here if there were no hope? We are asking you to do a difficult thing, but we are confident that you can do it.”

As A Wrinkle in Time unfolds, the reader gains wisdom through the Holy Scriptures and classical writers, such as “Nothing is hopeless” from Euripedes. Over time, love and loyalty compel Meg to move outside of her own despondency and into active courage. Meg’s new friend Calvin has delighted in her all along, just as we readers do. Upon meeting Meg and her rather odd family, the equally unusual Calvin exclaims with relief, “Isn’t it wonderful? … I’m not alone any more! Do you realize what that means to me?”

We share good books with our children for many reasons. Literature promotes insight into the frailties of the human condition. Furthermore, a compelling story can elevate our minds beyond our circumstances. Perhaps most appealing of all, literature reminds us we are not alone.

For comprehensive literature lists categorized by the child’s ability, see Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child. For a special-needs program uniquely centered on good books, see the new Simply Classical Special-Needs Curriculum.

Join other families for ongoing support: SimplyClassical.com.


Originally published in The Classical Teacher Summer 2015 edition

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