My Dreams for Penny, and Other Topics

Today’s post includes my final installment of answers to George Estreich’s questions. These center around family and education. And I’ll mention here that the drawing to win a free copy of George’s memoir, The Shape of the Eye, will happen on Friday, so comment on my interview with him last week to have a chance at winning this beautiful book. 

What has your family’s experience been with Penny’s education? What successes would you like to see shared, and in what ways might current practices change?

Penny has been in an integrated educational setting since she started preschool at age three. From preschool through first grade her classes were team taught by both a special education teacher and a regular education teacher. I’m very grateful for the opportunities she has had to have some individualized instruction (in math, for instance, this year) while also continuing to flourish in her love for reading and writing. Moreover, I believe that both Penny and her peers have benefited from the social learning that occurs as a result of an integrated classroom. Integration breaks down dividing lines, and it ultimately benefits all children because teachers are more equipped to serve a wide array of learning styles and abilities and because students become accustomed to the diversity of ability.

With all this said, we live in Connecticut, which I believe spends the most money per child of every state in the United States. To make this possible elsewhere would take a serious financial investment as well as a cultural shift that acknowledges the personal and social value of putting students of differing intellectual abilities in the same workspace.

Late in A Good and Perfect Gift, you write about “marvelous intentions and misplaced compassion.” I wonder: Has this continued to be true, or do you see changes in the way people react to Penny?

People who have come to know Penny over the years treat her much like we do. They know they should expect her to listen and behave herself and follow directions just like other kids her age. But “misplaced compassion” is still a challenge for us. Penny is still quite small compared to her peers, and she is an expert at singling out adults who will pay attention to her one-on-one. The danger for her is that she won’t grow in her ability to interact with peers and/or to entertain herself.

What dreams do you have for Penny as an adult, and what dreams does she have for herself?

I suspect that Penny will end up in a caring profession—teaching or medicine come to mind. Though I haven’t suggested these possibilities to her, she often says she will be a teacher or a nurse when she grows up. She has a very tender heart towards people with physical ailments, and she loves helping younger children learn.

Penny and her brother William often play-act weddings. Just this morning, he held her “train” as she entered the dining room to get a kiss from her father. He said, “I look forward to the day I get to give you away at the altar.” All this is to say that we dream of a fulfilling social life for Penny—friendships, romantic love and marriage, and a fulfilling job.

Although I suspect that Penny will live independently, I can’t say that’s a dream of mine. I’d be pretty happy to have her around for a long time.

What do you dream for your child? 

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).


  1. First I should say, since I won the last draw please feel free to leave my name out of this one. But I wanted to comment on the topic of education because for our family it’s been such a blessing. Our son, now 10, is on the autism spectrum, has a seizure disorder, and is developmentally delayed (in grade 5, working at approx grade 1 level). From the moment I walked in the front door of his school to enroll him in kindergarten, he (and we) received support, services, and full inclusion. He has a near-full-time Ed. Assistant (the position has been made permanent so it will follow him through his school years). He has an individual education plan that includes achievable goals for all areas: academic, life skills, social, and physical. He participates with his classroom peers in as much of the curriculum as possible, and works on his own goals, with EA assistance, the rest of the time. (Here’s a little more about this on my blog, just fyi: (I should add also that our daughter, age 14, has Asperger’s and while her needs are less pressing, she’s received much school support as well and is succeeding in high school with great services — services we never had to beg for but which were just in place, ready and available for kids like ours. I am so grateful!!!)

    If there is any down side, it relates to your point “The danger for [Penny] is that she won’t grow in her ability to interact with peers and/or entertain herself.” While my son has made progress socially, I worry at times that the level of one-on-one help at school will make him overly dependent on having that kind of interaction at all times. Learning is a goal, but so is as much independence as possible.

    Thanks for this series of interviews; I’ve really enjoyed it.

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    The danger
    for her is that she won’t grow in her ability to interact with peers
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    for her is that she won’t grow in her ability to interact with peers
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  2. I don’t know WHAT happened with the comment I just made; please pardon the weird glitches at the end. Here also is the link I attempted unsuccessfully to add:

  3. You’ve painted a beautiful picture of your daughter and son both, AJ. What a great family!

  4. I related to the “misplaced compassion” discussion in your book and your answer here. Our family, Cate’s teachers, and our friends all expect Cate to act appropriately and make allowence sparingly but we have had situations like VBS where I walked into the final day summary gathering to find Cate on the stage with the leader, twirling and dancing. Of course a situation like that doesn’t hurt anyone, her display was purely joyful and not really disruptive but in reality it only acts to seperate her from her peers because they wouldn’t not have been allowed the same behaviors. That is a hard thing to teach people who aren’t around her for long periods of time. Great interview

    • Lisa, thanks. I struggle all the time to convince people to hold Penny to the same standards. Short time frames like summer camp are the hardest because it takes about two weeks for people to believe me and by then (or earlier) the program is over. What have you done with Cate as far as summers go?

      • Two years ago we took her to a babysitter’s house, last year we did a jumble of summer camps out of pure necessity (last minute cancellation by her babysitter) but this year we got a nanny. We were super lucky to find a rising senior in college who is majoring in education so we were able to swing the extra money since she is tackling all the tutoring we did last year to stay current. It is really hard though because Cate can’t go all summer without losing a lot of her skills but our ESY is the biggest weakness in our school system and it is not a good place for her. We are very fortunate this year but who knows next year.

        • Penny started ESY today and I’m not convinced it’s the right place for her. We’ll stick it out for this summer, but I’m thinking about camps for next summer in which I try to supply a special ed major for her…