toddler Penny dumping a bucket of sand at the beach

All Kids Can Learn

All kids can learn, but when Penny was born, I was told only that she would have developmental delays and an intellectual disability. What if I had been told instead that she was going to be eager to understand the world? What if I had been told she would always be ready to learn? 

The people who told me about the delays and disability weren’t wrong. But their view of our daughter was woefully incomplete.

The ability to learn is not the same as intelligence. Every few years, we receive feedback on Penny’s raw intelligence that demonstrates the fact that it is hard for her to process abstract ideas, including time and space and emotions. We simultaneously receive feedback on Penny’s ability to learn the information she is presented in the classroom. (We also of course receive personal feedback on her kindness, perseverance, patience, and other tremendously important traits that are hard to measure on standardized tests.)

I remember when she first understood that every object corresponded with a word. Back then, Penny couldn’t speak words out loud—there goes that developmental delay—but she could begin to express her world through sign language. My mom, a preschool teacher said, “She is showing us that she can learn.”

She doesn’t need to learn everything. She doesn’t need to learn quickly. But she does need people around her who believe that she can learn and grow. 

There are all sorts of concepts Penny will never understand. All sorts of books she will never read. All sorts of jobs she can never have. 

So much more importantly: there are all sorts of people Penny loves. All sorts of books and stories and museums and paintings and experiences she would love to have. All sorts of projects she wants to try. All sorts of ways she will continue to learn.

toddler Penny dumping a bucket of sand at the beach

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