Learning From Those We Label- Schizophrenic Students

     For an EPSY assignment this semester I watched the movie “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe. I remembered having to watch it in my grade 12 psychology class but could not recall the details or specifics. “A Beautiful Mind” is the true story of Nobel Prize winner John Nash. Nash was an extremely smart mathematician at Princeton University during the late 1940’s. When first introduced to Nash he seems very withdrawn from society and very socially awkward. He also seems to have some repetitive behaviour. For example, he rarely maintained eye contact with an individual, he was always putting the back of his hand to his forehead, and seemed very agitated and tense much of the time. Throughout the movie you are introduced to other characters such as Nash’s best friend, Charles, Charles’ neice, and William Pratcher, who works for the government. Nash turns out to be Schizophrenic and these key characters are actually just figments of his imagination. The rest of the movie is the treatment he underwent, becoming medicated, relapse, and the stress it put on his marriage before setting his mind on ignoring his imaginings. The movie ends by Nash speaking at the awards ceremony where he won the Nobel Prize. It is still apparent that he sees his friends; however, they no longer contact or bother one another.

     After concluding the movie I began to think about disabilities and how society perceives them. Many people perceive a disability with being “dumb” or incapable, when in contrast, John Nash was an incredibly smart individual who had a mental disability; Schizophrenia. As a result, I perceive disabilities differently now too. It is very easy to get pulled into the bulk of societal thought without really realizing that your thoughts are no longer yours, but you have taken on the general idea of the public. I never assumed anyone was “dumb” if they had a disability; however I did assume they were incapable of something, whether it be physically, academically, or mentally. Reflecting on it now, I find that is very unfair to assume of someone. It is not that they are incapable; they simply are challenged by something most people take for granted. For example, in the case of John Nash, it was a challenge for him to differentiate between the real and the imagined. Many people we label with learning or mental disabilities are extremely smart or capable of learning, yet no one gives them the credit they deserve because it is not necessarily what is valued, especially in an academic setting. Although, for every rule there is an exception. John Nash seemed to be the exception. He was incredibly smart, given credit for it, and able to build a relationship and have a family, whereas most people with Schizophrenia are not able to learn the same curriculum as the students who aren’t facing any disabilities and have a lot of trouble socially, especially with building emotional relationships.

     To be an educator of a student with Schizophrenia the teacher would have to put themselves in that individual’s shoes, recognize how difficult their everyday life must be, and make a plan to address that student’s specific needs in your classroom. As the classroom teacher of that student, it would be your responsibility to research Schizophrenia and know what this mental disability entails, what causes symptoms, types of emotional or psychological problems that could accompany it, and finally, treatment plans for the student. As an educator to this young student, it means being sympathetic, empathetic, and building a strong and trusting relationship with that student. Most of all, being an educator to a young student with a disability means being flexible and able to implement adaptations for that student. While trying to come up with what it means to be an educator to this type of student, I decided to research it on the internet. What I found was many simple adaptations teachers could make for students with this condition. Some of the adaptations to be made by the educator with a Schizophrenic student could be: calling a meeting as soon as the teacher finds out they have a student with a unique mental disability, such as Schizophrenia. Present at the meeting should be the teacher, any other teachers who will be working with the student, school psychologist or therapist, school social worker, parents, and the student, if they are old enough. The point of the meeting would be to develop in Personal Program Plan (PPP) for this student. Many Schizophrenic students need adapted programs, including curriculum content, such as learning from a different textbook, using graphic organizers, or mnemonic devices. Seeing as many individuals with Schizophrenia have trouble organizing their thoughts or recalling content and memory, graphic organizers and mnemonic devices are often extremely helpful. Stress is known to trigger symptoms of Schizophrenia, therefore, as the teacher it would be important to provide a quiet, calm, stress free environment for the student to learn in as often as possible; even providing direct instruction there would be helpful. After the PPP is set and the teacher has set a useful classroom environment for that student, it is important to set up academic and social goals between that student and the teacher. The teacher should encourage the student to participate in extra-curricular activities with peers at school. The last, and possibly, most obvious adaptation a teacher could make for that student would be to adapt the way the student is graded. If the student is on a PPP, than it would only seem logical that they would not be graded on a traditional scale. Seeing as many Schizophrenic individuals have a hard time organizing thoughts it would seem hardly fair to give them a written test and ask them to, “do their best”. Rather, these students should be tested on hands on experiences or what they are able to explain to you and base their mark on the connections they are able to make inside their own heads.

     After I finished watching the movie I decided to read up on Schizophrenia on the internet and I was very shocked by what I read regarding some of the behaviours these individuals might display and the symptoms that may occur. For instance, I couldn’t imagine hearing voices telling me to hurt myself or others, or seeing things that were not there. This experience will influence my own teaching because I never realized how invasive and intense Schizophrenia could be. As I was sitting here trying to put myself in that mindset, I found I was just scaring myself. I can’t imagine how someone with Schizophrenia may actually feel. I have a friend who used to teach and he had a student who entered the year with no symptoms and then all of a sudden started talking about a group of friends from a different school and eventually facts weren’t adding up and the individual was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. My friend said he felt very helpless at that point because this young man was being told he has a mental disorder and he thought he was perfectly sane. Again, I could not imagine the struggle that poor individual was experiencing. However, throughout my own teaching practice I will strive to not label an individual with having a disability and therefore, being incapable. I will do my absolute best to make accommodations for every student that needs them and address their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. If I ever have a student with Schizophrenia, I feel I will have a better idea of how to help that student. I have always wanted to strive to be the best teacher I can be. I feel frustrated and inadequate if I am not succeeding. Many students with disabilities feel this way too. I will always do my best to think of my students with disabilities as being challenged by one or more things, yet extremely able in others. For example, a wheelchair ridden boy with Cerebral Palsy may not be able to communicate with you through words but he may be the only one who can make you smile on a day when it seems like the world is going to cave in.

There is a fantastic campaign brought forth by the Center for Persons with Disabilities that focuses on seeing the “ability not the disability.” This is one idea that I know I want to take into the classroom because even though one student may not be capable of doing one thing, they are able to do something. Focussing on what the students can do can have so many positive results in the end. Students are able to be successful and they can create self-worth based on completing and doing well on things that they are able to accomplish. Students will gain the confidence to try things that may come unnatural to them. These students who never got the chance to take risks will have the confidence to try new things and they will have the ability to not be disgruntled by their failure. Alongside, Scope has also introduced a campaign surrounding the idea that “Disability means Possibility.” These two campaigns go hand in hand because it is introducing society to the idea that disabilities won’t hold back students like previously assumed. This is the time that people with exceptionalities can flourish and produce endless opportunities for them to succeed.

     Being aware of the barriers placed on students is the key to understanding how to create inclusiveness. In the past I was scared of students with disabilities because I was unaware of who they were and what they had to offer. I was young and naive and I was easily persuaded into believing the views that society had placed on these students. But as I previously stated, understanding is the way we can change and being introduced to certain mediums that portray the achievements and the appreciation for students with exceptionalities is the beginning to being able to understand what I need to do, and what society needs to do to see change happen. 

     Society has labelled many people based on what some medical doctor or psychologists or whoever has deemed these particular people to be. Many barriers have been placed in order to hold these students in the borders of their disability. It is our jobs as teachers to break down these barriers and demolish these assumed borders or labels that have been produced. No student should be confined to the idea that they can or cannot accomplish something because some book says so. Students with exceptionalities have all the opportunities to become and have become exceptional people; it is our job to be accepting of that.



Internet Sites I read from:

Pub Med Health-Schizophrenia

How To Teach Schizophrenic Students

Teaching Schizophrenic Students


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