KNOXVILLE, Tn. — Aaron Hiscutt is fourteen years old. He’s a drummer and a comedian. He’s also clinically deaf and blind. But Aaron doesn’t go to a special education school. Since kindergarten, he’s been included in classrooms with his hearing and seeing peers. Classmate Lauren Meffe says she remembers those kindergarten classes with Aaron:
“He got to sit with everyone like everyone else gets to sit with everyone he gets to interact with people, like we get to do, and he just did a couple of things different than us, but he was like us,” she says, adding that he seemed to learn everything just like the rest of the class, too.
“I think he would just have to learn it a little bit better,” she says.
Aaron can’t speak for himself – his hearing and vision impairment has delayed his language development. Aaron’s mom, Susan Hiscutt, says that’s sometimes the hardest thing for people who don’t know Aaron to understand.
“People’s perception of him is that he’s more intellectually delayed or intellectually disabled then he truly is,” she says.
Aaron has a genetic disorder known as CHARGE syndrome. While it’s a deaf-blind syndrome, most of those affected, including Aaron, still have limited vision and hearing. He uses sign language to communicate. Aaron’s mom says that often makes teachers anxious.
But Aaron’s English teacher this year, Susan Weaver, says she’s learned to love having him in class.
“I feel comfortable with Aaron right now. And I wasn’t at the very beginning. I very frankly was worried about how I could address his needs, because I’m not trained in sign language.”
Weaver learned fast. Now she’s teaching simple sign language to all one hundred – 52 of her English students. Weaver says although Aaron has an interpreter in every class, classmates didn’t know how to interact with him. But she needed to reach every student.
“So that’s why we’re doing that, we’re signing and involving him, we do you know, the, wonderful, we do the hand signals, we do that all the time, and we say to him, how are you … and he does respond, he’ll say he’s fine or he’ll say he’s good – and the kids are learning too.”
Many special education students have an Individualized Education Plan, or an I-E-P. Aaron has an educational team that goes a step beyond the I-E-P. They use a method called “person-centered planning,” where teachers focus on personal growth along with educational goals. Aaron’s mom says she hopes others will learn from his example.
“Maybe it’ll open the eyes of the system, and they’ll be more accepting and maybe start expecting more of children who on the outside appear challenged, but hopefully they’ll start seeing what’s really on the inside of that child. And that that child has a right to be able to reach their greatest potential. ”
Aaron’s headed to high school next year. It’s a bigger challenge and a bigger group of students. But Susan says she’s still dreaming big for Aaron, and she’ll keep fighting for her son to be included. And as for Aaron, if his track record is any indication, he’ll continue to change minds and win people over … one classroom at a time.