Everything I know about the subject of learning disabilities will ONLY ever be a drop in the bucket of what I have yet to discover

I write this blog post today as a mother, a special educator and as a student with exceptional needs.

The key to really helping students in exceptional educational programs, whether they are in gifted and talented (GT), on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a learning plan (LP), or even mildly struggling in a general education program, is a three way partnership between parents, teachers and students.

I know this sounds like something that always happens, but the truth is that it does not always happen (for various reasons on all sides). I have noticed that parents do not always realize how much they can do at home, teachers don’t desire to burden parents and children who already face challenges, and students are sometimes unprepared to fully and actively participate in their own learning. Full and active participation has nothing to do with excitement. Any SPED teacher can tell you stories of how excited their students are.

However…. There is one problem that I have as a parent…

As a parent, I find that I tend to OVER HELP my children. What I mean is that, through no fault of my own, I give assistance (or scaffolding) where it can cause more harm then good. Let me give you an example:

My daughter was highly verbal when she was born. At some point, she stopped speaking. I knew that we had some stress in the house, so I began to cater to her signals. I got things down from the cabinet when she pointed to it and I just allowed her to have her own space and communicate in her own time.

One day I had a friend babysit. Before leaving, I explained to him that she was non-verbal (for now) and to just let her point, she was a really good child – just quiet.

When I returned home I could hear him outside the door say, “No. Nope. I am not going to get it until you speak to me.” She was crying at this point and the mother in me wanted to swoop in and save the day. I found some way to control my person and I walked in and just waited. My daughter looked to me to save her and I didn’t – I wanted to see what would happen. When crying stopped working and saving was no longer an option my daughter spoke her first real sentence in over six months.

“May I please have a peanut butter sandwich?

It was music to my ears. It was also a good reason for me to stop the internal hate that was growing for the person who stood there and pushed my daughter to speak.

My daughter has not been quiet since and if she is quiet –something is going on…lol.

That was nearly 17 years ago.

The point is still the same. I was scaffolding my daughter because I noticed that she had a deficit in an area. My scaffolding would have been helpful had my daughter become completely non-verbal. Unfortunately, I had never fully tested the situation out in order to determine if this was a permanent change or a temporary change. It felt permanent because of the amount of time this had been going on. I had begun to give up on hearing her speak again and I had been researching how to teach sign language. What this taught me was that all I actually needed was to stand and wait and use two of the most powerful letters in the English language, “N” and “O”. NO!

Disclaimer:

Now: before anyone begins to post about the word NO being negative… I state here and now that NO is POSITIVE. It is the best way to defend oneself. Children need to know how to voice it and how to show it in body language (as do adults – for me this is an important skill for all people). A child who cannot say, “NO”, is at risk. There, I said it. I hope we all feel better and can move on.

I need to be clear about something else – had my friends test proved unsuccessful – I might have been really angry with him. But, it is important for me to understand that just doing the test (whether she spoke or not) was the only true way to discover what my next steps should have been. My friend showed me that I was OVER HELPING and that was causing a lot more damage then facing the situation head on and dealing with my daughter directly.

This post is my way of asking parents and educators to step into one another’s shoes. I believe that most of us want what is best for our students with exceptional needs – it’s my hope that those who do not want that will look for wonderful careers outside of education – I did say hope – so please no hate mail.

I have the same capacity to OVER HELP and Under Stimulate the learning of my students, if I am not careful. As an educator, I must always remember the lesson this situation has taught me. I must be willing to research, to test, to try harder, to try new things, to step away, to let another try, to seek additional answers even when I am sure I understand the problem.

As I said before, everything I know about the subject of learning disabilities will ONLY ever be a drop in the bucket of what I have yet to discover.

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My Friend the Television an ASPIE perspective

I have heard many people badmouth television as a useless device. I hear parents all the time say things like, “I limit my child’s ability to watch TV because I don’t want to turn them into a mindless drones.”

Here is my take on this subject.

When I was younger, I really had a difficult time understanding people. Human actions in a neurotypical (NT) sense are contradictory to human words. There are hidden undertones and messages that don’t make sense.

Television makes those hidden elements in conversation easier for someone like me (a person who has a hard time understanding facial expression and emotion) to comprehend. When I was a kid, I spent hours and hours watching television and it helped me to practice the social skills I needed to participate with people in school and at home. This was important, because my grandmother refused to have me tested when I was in school. She was not doing it to be spiteful. She did NOT want me labeled. For that reason, my siblings were frustrated at my behavior – they called me spoiled, difficult, rude, blunt, mean, and a few other choice words that I would rather not write.

When I knew that I could not speak to them – I turned on the television and used it to study what I needed to differently.

There were times when I failed to watch the right shows. The show Punky Brewster springs to mind when I think about failed television role models. A person should not dress in multiple colors of socks when one lives in an at-risk urban neighborhood. Reading books helps me to read emotion in the text; it does not give me any indication about how that looks in the flesh.

My point in writing all of this is to ask people – especially people who hate television – to consider another side of the coin. Television changed my life for the better – it is like a friend, a teacher, and a comfort all rolled into one. I do not have to speak to it, make eye contact, humans are all over it, and I don’t have to be socially acceptable.

Food for Thought –

DRR

How to or Can you argue with individuals who are NT when you have intellectual disabilities/ ASD?

I am writing this blog to address something that has been on my radar but has not truly bleeped until just recently.

I got into a discussion about debating/arguing in a community forum. A person determined that my leaning-in was aggressive unless it came with a specific facial indicator, especially when I have the facial expression that she viewed as “aggressive”. While my personal opinion about leaning-in meant only that we were about to really begin having an authentic conversation, it did not matter what my facial expression was. She stated that tone in a debate made her concerned. I stated that directing feelings based on words made me frustrated.

In a sea of individuals who are neurotypical (NT), I find it increasing more difficult to explain the differences in how I see debate/arguing or participation in debate/arguing and in the way people who are NT see it.

But is that right or wrong? Is it merely different?

I believe that requires a great deal more thought.

My challenge to you as a reader is this: I want you to consider if our understanding of how we can and should intact with one another in a community setting is only addressing the comfort of a specific set of individuals and will this damage our ability to create a culturally responsible way of dealing with all individuals in a shared space?

Let’s take a look at a few things that might be different between individuals with NT and individuals like myself:

Tracking the speaker: Tracking the speaker shows you are listening and paying attention.

As an individual with ASD, I find that I listen best when I am able to type or fiddle with an iPad when others are talking. Tracking the speaker often makes me tired and requires so much cognitive energy that I am unable to focus on the content of their side of the issue.

Additionally, tracking the speaker often makes it more difficult for me to watch my body language and tone (BLT). In understanding how individuals with NT relate to BLT, I normally try to make myself aware of what my BLT says. However, in the heat of a debate BLT becomes harder to manage. In that space, words and direct understanding of word meanings become even more important, which typically means that my gaze has become specific and my focus more dynamic since I am working through my own desire to keep the communication going (even if it’s verbally at a tone that is hard for an NT or emotionally sensitive individual). I do not mean that to say that individuals with ASD are not emotional, we are very emotional people. I mean that to say that these specific ideas slide off the plate when my focus has to move from the computer screen to the individual speaker.

Interruptions: Interruptions are rude and create tension.

As an individual with ASD, I interrupt to discuss the specific language being used or to clarify any misinterpretations that I can see forming when another person begins to discuss what I have addressed. I also see interruptions as an interesting part of the debate process – not that they are required all the times – but they are often valuable in the learning environment.

I have heard others say that it’s unfair to allow students to interrupt one another in class because it shuts others down. Some have even suggested writing down the question and coming back to it later. However, this goes back to tracking the speaker, in my mind. If I am writing, I am not tracking and therefore, I am not holding true to that other social norm. Also, it is also much more difficult to go back to the thought later on because once the person has completed the thought, they have branched into another topic – which places me in a particular situation – do I (for the sake of clarity) go back to the thought on paper or do I let the important thing slide to make it easier on the NT person who may not even realize that I see two or more different things happening in the sentence they have just stated??????

Others say they are thinking out loud and attempting to contribute more to the topic. It’s not always conscious but it is in an effort to foster continued dialogue.

Time and Length of Arguments: Making points quickly and directly.

In thinking about time and length of arguments, I have noticed that if an individual does not get to the point quickly or state the point succinctly; others around the person begin to show physical signs of frustration with the speaker. Those individuals roll their eyes, increase the intensity of their gaze, shake their heads or yawn, and or state in some way that the conversation should be ceased. I continually hear many NT individuals say that people are safe to share as it suits them, but I have not yet fully seen an NT group conform to allowing others to speak how they want, the way they want, and take the time they need to get to the point. I do not believe that these physical difficulties are NT related, as many individuals with ASD struggle with this issue. Some need to have the time to ferret out their thoughts before giving feedback. Others need to state specifically and quickly. This will require more study to understand.

Hidden emotional tags:

Often, when arguing with NT individuals, I discover that my tone of voice or the word descriptions I am using create drama and added stress. The individual I am in argument with then determines my feelings, intentions, cares, concerns, and or desires based on the words they have heard me use.

Conversations with a few ASD support groups have proven this to be a common frustration among members of the community. Many members of the community find that often NT individuals will begin classifying emotion or ascribing emotion to a strong opinion about one topic or another, which leads to further intense debating about something that is completely different than what the ASD individual had set out to say.  I find that I grow defensive when someone attributes an emotional tag to me that I did not request or feel, this in turn makes me more direct and probably more aggressive (I do not see this as a bad word) in my stance in the discussion.

Leaning-in

As stated before, leaning-in was seen as aggressive based on facial expression. This was an interesting thought to me. Leaning in to hear people better or to show them I’m invested in what they are saying is important (especially if there is not a computer to serve as a baseline).

Obtaining Clarification: Those are not my words!

I have often heard individuals with NT state that they feel attacked when I begin discussing a situation that has occurred. This is done for someone like me in order to gain specific understanding about (1) why the situation occurred, (2) how that situation has informed my thinking, and (3) to determine IF that can or should be something that might change if those things are worked through completely. When an individual uses a statement that in doing such is attacking them, that moves right back to the idea of subscribing a feeling or thought process to my words. Thought processes and feelings that I do NOT feel or think and they are NOT things I have added to the discussion, which in turn becomes a misrepresentation of my voice. This is one I will need to speak to NT individuals to understand. I am not sure if I am too emotional to understand this or if I do not see the connection between one or the other, but it is a dilemma that I face in dealing with how an individual with ASD should debate or argue with an NT individual.

This is starkly different when I am arguing/debating with another person with ASD. In my communications with an individual with ASD, I have discovered that we can debate/argue for hours and we thrive. Passion is a stepping-stone to engaging in understanding. Often things like leaning-in are not noticed or not commented on unless the other individual does not understand or recognize the behavior. An example would be, I might lean in because I am trying to hear or I am interrupting to clarify word choice. In doing so, I might get too close. The other ASD individual might then pull back and site the behavior and then comment on what makes the behavior problematic for them. I explain my intention and we adjust. Either I move back or I continue to lean-in, but we continue with the conversation. That in a nutshell is starkly different. I have also realized that for people who truly know me – this is something we have learned to navigate for one another – even when we did not have the appropriate words for it.

Hero affirmations: You have really overcome enough to argue.

The final difficulty that I have encountered while debating/arguing with NT individuals is that I often (not always) run into the assumption that my particular perspective is blinded by that fact that I had the desire/ability to overcome my ASD and that I am somehow a different then other individual with this type of cognitive disability. First, it is impossible to overcome ASD. I might find tools – but I can’t rub this out with positive intention. Second, I am not any different than any individual who has faced any type of challenge. In stating that, to me, it indicates that you believe that my ASD is something that makes me completely crippled. I might have a disability but that does not cripple me and it does not make me unable to face a challenge (whether I fail or succeed).

Never once in a conversation with an individual with ASD do I encounter this type of statement while debating or arguing. There is never a presumption that the ASD makes me different nor is there the presumption that any person who is NT has or has not overcome a challenge, we just don’t seem to find it necessary to make that a precursor for an argument. I wonder if others with a disability of any sort can understand this point.

You are making an argument and you use your experience as a foundation to the topic. The experience is not ideal and it may not even be a huge triumph in your life. The person you are debating/arguing with then rebuts you argument with this type of comment, “since you have overcome, then you cannot speak for all disabled people” or they constantly need you to restate that you do NOT think you are speaking about all disabled people. On the reverse, that person might have just used their prior experience to address the topic at hand, without the need to qualify that they don’t speak for all NT individuals.

So where does this leave us in consideration of the original question? The truth is that I do not have an answer. In an effort to create a culturally responsive space for all people to argue/debate, it is important to understand the differences that occur in communication. What members of the ASD community often face is the subjugation of assimilation. This means that the majority of our working peers are NT so we are required to participate under NT rules. This is because we live in a majority NT world – is that fair – no! It is reality.

Cultural responsiveness should mean that we learn to understand that our way or doing something might not be the way another person does something. It also means that we open ourselves to the idea that people have the right to challenge what we think may be right or wrong. In looking at the various ways people argue for understanding – do we owe it to one another to hear others say, “That behavior means something different to me”.

These are just some thoughts I will need to evaluate in the years to come.

Diffusion of Information and LD Students

{excerpt: Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) students on How their specific LD characteristics impact the post-secondary education experience: Tables removed but are embedded within the full text version}

Two questions that are often asked in school systems around the country are; “What are students learning?” and “How do we create an atmosphere that supports learning? (Brookhart, 2011, p. 4)”. These questions are asked at all levels of education, in relationship to all curriculum and teaching practices, and in the heat of political debates (Altbach, Berdahl, & Gumport, 2005). Rogers (1976) defines the diffusion process as the extension of a new ideas, thoughts, or innovations from its establishment to its adopters. Rogers (1976) differentiates the adoption process from the diffusion process in that the diffusion process occurs within society, as a group process; whereas, the adoption process pertains to an individual mental progression where a person moves from merely hearing the information to understanding it and being able to fully apply it in some way.

This is something with which Kelly struggles. Rogers (1976) is primarily speaking about new technology; however, his thoughts are applicable to education especially when he focuses in on the concept of innovation within an organization (p. 417). In this scenario, the students are in the school to learn new information and or ideas so that they can use it to gain new understanding and build better lives for themselves and their families (Honig M. I., 2006). Rogers (1976) highlights how organizations measure adoption of an innovation within an organization over a period of time like email systems and computer technology.

However, an LD student entering an undergraduate program is there to learn new tools and skills (Marzano & Kendall, 2007). These tools can be nursing technology, business technology, leadership skills, etc., but it is all new to the student and it is information that must be adopted or the student will not be able to advance in the program or have a career in that field after the program is completed (Cortilla, 2011; Rogers, 2003). Students with LD come to the learning environment with processing issues that put gaps in their ability to learn/adopt the new information (Opp, 1994). As noted earlier this gap in understanding has been equated to the appearance of Swiss cheese: the knowledge is there, residing in the spaces and pockets, but for whatever reason, the student is unable to access that information, rendering it useless to the student (Cooper, 2007; Cooper, 2005).

When the student enters the classroom, many times, they are entering “fresh”, new, ready to learn, because what was learned the day prior (a month prior, a year prior, years prior), has slipped away (Cooper, 2007). For this reason, the teacher, as the innovator or presenter of the innovation, is again needing to diffuse this new (or renewed) information to the LD student (Rogers, 2003). It’s a recursive process where the LD student learns and relearns until the innovation or new idea is fully adopted, though this is not copiously occuring for the LD student (Viel-Ruma et al., 2007). Cortiella (2011) noted that improved instruction, enhancement to disability planning, better application of programs, and greater skills assessments and training are needed to help students with disabilities understand themselves and grasp their educational process.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 has the potential to assist with disability planning efforts, because it allows individuals with disabilities to show their difficulties by documenting the disability and citing their problems (The United States Access Board, 2008). Regarding any future employer or post-secondary institution (PSI), it requires that “reasonable” modification be applied, without forcing changes or alterations that might be too difficult for the entity to implement (The United States Access Board, 2008). “Reasonable” is a problematic term, becausestudents with disabilities have had a great amount of difficulty in expressing, documenting, and receiving assistance for their disabilities as a direct result of their problems with communication (Cortilla, 2011). This makes it difficult for any employer or PSI to adequately identify what “reasonable accommodations” are, which is creating further gaps (in education and in employment) for the individual with LD (President’s Commission on Excellence in Education, 2002).

In their review of the history of change literature, Higgs and Wren (2009) discuss the complexities and failures of change models over time. They evaluate models that move from simple to sophisticated, and those that move from do-it-yourself models to emergent models (Higgs & Wren, 2005). Among the listed change literature historians is a theorist named John Kotter. Kotter (1996) believed that change required participation from the leader and that leaders needed a true sense of urgency in regard to the change. Others suggest that organizational capabilities and the cultures they impact are so disconnected, and that change cannot occur without structure and repetition (Beer & Nohria, 2000).

Some change literature theorists contend that institutional changes are difficult to conceptualize, because they ultimately have to apply in real world situations (UNPD, 2006). However, others state that the only way change can be effective is if one is willing to continually reshape one’s capacity to enhance one’s organization (Higgs & Wren, 2005; Jaworski & Scharmer, 2000). Altering a system and applying new standards is easy to theorize about, but research shows that changes, especially in educational systems are rarely executed as they are designed (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Thus, such changes do not spread throughout the entire organization and they are not sustainable in their ability to hold stakeholder or community interests long-term (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000).

Rogers (2003) noted that for an innovation to be effective it needs to have certain attributes: (1) it must be better then the innovation it follows, (2) it must be compatible with the current values, (3) it must not be preceived as being too difficult to use, (4) it must allow for experimentation, and (5) it must be transparent and observable so that results are clearly laid out. In the redesign of a new educational system, a stakeholder analysis (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000) and strategic plan that incorporate feasible living strategies (this is a method for making sure that a plan that is placed on paper can be effective in a real world situation) are key to a new innovation being successful (Marx, 2006, pp. 15-16).

It is important to determine who the stakeholders are and what role they will play in decision-making, organization policy, literature development and assimilation, and continuation of innovation practices (Rogers, 2003). While there is still some debate about who the stakeholders are (i.e are students stakeholders or are they customers), the majority of researchers find that educational stakeholders include a combination of stduents, parents, staff, community organizations, local governemtns, local businesses, retired citizens, citizens who no longer have students in school, institutions of higher education, media and educational agencies (Spector, Greely , & Kingsley, 2004; BFHE, 2009).

The question then becomes, Where do these stakeholders have buy-in and how does that buy-in impact the assimilation of information (Business Higher Education Foum BHEF, 2009). It might be easier to outline these stakeholders in a figure, by those who are outside of the organization versus those that are inside the organization and how their position in the structure determines their influence on decisions and information diffusion (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Understanding this relationship allows leaders to develop a proper analysis of whose interests are being considered and who is most impacted by any choice that is made when an educational system needs to be altered (Honig & Rainey, 2011).

Putting these stakeholders in a figure its clear to see that there are stakeholders that are influencers (Policy-makers, Administrators, Social groups, Professional Organizations) and stake holders are the influencees (Students and Instructors). Damanpour & Schneider (2008) might say influencers have “primary” adopter characteristics (those having intrinsic influence, dealing with value and policy) and they might note that influencees have “secondary” adopter characteristics (those having an internal value from the adoption process or that are requires to utilize the actual innovation).

Primary adopters focus on how innovation will be used by the organization from group to group. Secondary adopters focus on how the innovation will be put into practice (Damanpour & Schneider, 2008). Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, & Hall (1987) stated that the most important element in creating positive and successful change was a leader’s willingness to work, push, support and participate in the process (p. 10). A leaders role is important because it does take a quality leader to get an entire stakeholder community to implement new change (Hord et al., 1987). LD students do not have the power to speak for themselves, so they are dependent on their leaders (Cortilla, 2011).

Dalitz, Toner, & Turpin (2011) state that innovation formulas incorporate a variety of different tactics and procedures, but most formulas include life cycle changes, training changes, and skill needs that are either the major primary consideration or they are a close second in the consideration process (p. 11). It is possible that this is why school systems struggle to make some changes to the PSI environment. The change is possibly seen as too expensive or too difficult to implement. In consideration of changing the PSI environment for the LD student, The Cervero Model was chosen because of its incorporation of all elements on a somewhat equal setting, see Figure 2.4. The Cervero Model (Hubbard & Sandmann, 2007). This is relevant because PSI need to understand that, even though modifications at all levels are ultimately desired, change methods do not require PSI to alter every aspect of the educational process to be successful.

Studies have found that there is interconnectedness between change success rates, change context, leadership and methodologies to change (Higgs & Wren, 2005). If stakeholders are not committed, they will not follow the new process and it will fail (Higgs & Wren, 2005). This evidence is reported in The President’s Commission on Excellence in Education (2002) when the reporting staff discovered that LD students were not effectively learning and educational institutions were not able to produce quality, stable learning environments for students with LD. When considering how to assist students with LD, especially when policy has been mandated by legislation that governs how much change can happen at the PSI level, and when considering that many stakeholders have had no choice in the learning formats that are chosen (Dunn & Mulvenon, 2009), LD students must be included in the implementation of any changes that may need to occur in the future as a result of the lived experiences of the mandated educational changes (Hord et al., 1987).

The President’s Council on Excellence in Education (2002) states that the innovation that will help LD students to become solid academic learners will be found by and through engaging with and researching LD students outside of the parameters of the traditional student. If language is not stationary, and if it is not relegated to the sign or symbol as Derrida (1997) supposes, and if it is ontogenetic as Chomsky (1998) believes, and as educators have indirectly implied (Bloom, 1956; Bruner, 1966; Eisner, 2000; Enfield, 2010; Gardener, 2006; Vygotsky, 1978), then researchers must ask how students use language. They must consider how the use of language interferes with learning, and what can be done at the post-secondary institution (PSI) level to help the LD student to better cope in educational settings without removing the “reasonable accommodations” requirement (GOA, 2009).

New News is Good News

It has been a long and interesting week here in my house.  My sons both underwent testing with a specialist in the field of cognitive disabilities.  There are varying reasons why, but the important part was that they both needed answers and this testing was going to provide that.  My oldest was diagnosed ADHD with sensory issues and my youngest was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. The oldest has additional testing he needs to complete.

I was not sure that I was ready to receive the news myself.  Yes, I have LD, ASD with SPD and I have a daughter with ADHD, SPD, and LD. I even knew my oldest son had LD’s.  Yet, the information impacted my sons and I in a strange way. Allow me to take a step back and tell you all about that day.

Knowing we were going to have the results meeting on this day, I took the liberty of taking the boys out of school. I had no idea that doctor would find anything. I felt that the testing had been stressful and even if nothing was wrong, the boys needed a day off.

We slept in that morning and took our dogs on a long walk. The mood was light. We were laughing and joking.   We mutually decided that we would have breakfast together.

As we loaded into the car, the mood began to change. It was silent. Then out of the blue we found our selves behind an advertisement that read “Stump Removal and Daughter”. We could not figure the sign out – even the picture on the advertisement was odd. And it quickly got us laughing.

I cannot explain how hard it was to point out the ordinary things in life, just as you are driving down to the unknown.  We had breakfast and watched President Obama address the Nation on the monitor in the dinning room. My sons had all these questions about Russia and the Ukraine. It was surreal – watching the news and watching the clock – hearing about this conflict as we had our own internal struggle about our own day.

Finally, it was time. We got to the elevators – walked to the office and I was eventually asked back to hear the results. The doctor and I then broke the news to the boys. My oldest had a few questions. My youngest quietly took it all in.

After we sat in the car for a little while. The boys both felt heavy and finally asked if we could do something fun.  I then drove them to the store, purchased real record players, bought albums, and took each son on a private walk to figure out if they could say the things that they were having trouble saying.

There were the obvious questions. What is this illness? Am I sick? Do I have to take medication? Then there were the other questions. Why me? Did I do something wrong?

Each new day brings more questions, as one might expect. Knowing though has had a great many benefits. It has helped my son to answer questions about themselves that had been unanswered for years. It has allowed my husband and I to take a second look at our children and focus on them over their grades. It has opened conversations at school that are helping our sons to navigate school better because they know what is happening and they are trying to avoid the pitfalls.

Parents as you consider testing, especially if you are worried about the labels that you child could potentially have, my advice to you is to take a deep breath and accept what comes. I only regret waiting this long to do this.  As we step out into the future, I plan to keep you all posted on our progress.

Kind Regards,

Dr. Richmond

Marginalization and Learning Disabilities

Over the past several months I have had conversations with individuals with disabilities who have been marginalized on college campuses due to the actions and attitudes of their non-disabled peers regarding disabilities that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Living with a disability, especially a disability that is considered “invisible”, is difficult for many people to navigate.  After all, we don’t LOOK like there is something wrong with us. This often leaves the door open to those who think that these conditions are either made up by therapists in order to give those therapists something to do, or “faked” by us to gain attention.

The hard issue is that many individual’s who do not have LD, do not appreciate how difficult it is to navigate the world when you have disabilities. I my own life, I am often told that I must not be disabled if I obtained a college degree.  This is the type of statement that would not normally be said to an individual who had a prosthetic limb.  One might presume that life with the prosthetic would be easier to navigate, but we would never presume that the limb had grown back or that the individual was better because they had a prosthetic (if you did make that leap – it would be because you had not experienced the issues that come with having to use a medical device such as a prosthetic).

I have to make a side note here.  When I use the word “disability”, I use it universally to describe a condition or set of conditions that interferes with or prevents one’s ability to participate in the world without accommodation.  This is a simple definition, because it incorporates all forms of disability, not specifically learning disabilities. Many people would say that a disability does not make one “disabled” – which is true.  Lots of people live life with disabilities and they are not limited in what they can achieve or do.  Others will try, but will be stopped by the disability itself. And others will be unable.  No one person copes with a disability in the same way and no one way is better.

But I have noticed a backlash from groups who are frustrated that so many new conditions are being identified – in their opinion.  I continually hear statements such as, “When I was a kid, there was no such thing as dyslexia/AHDH/”insert learning disability here”. It is as if the very idea is preposterous because someone had not seen it or had not recognized it in the past.

The fact is that unless you have it or your related to someone who has it, it’s hard to understand the impact.  In our society, people desire to live a life that is complaint free.  We pat those on the back who have pushed their conditions aside and beaten the odds – so to speak.  Unfortunately, in the disability community, when one does a great job of moving on with their lives, the rest are often seen as victims, bringing down the system or sucking it dry – which is not the case.

The people I spoke to over these last few weeks did not see themselves as victims, they only knew that to be successful they needed accommodation.

Accommodation is such a tricky word.  People think it means taking from what others need to give something to someone else. I venture to say that in some ways every person on the planet uses some type of accommodation.  The mother trying to feed her young combative toddler uses a restraining devise (commonly called a high chair) to help her to feed the child without incident.  A young boy painting the house for the first time uses a ladder to reach the higher parts of the house.  Neither of these individuals is disabled. They use these devices because they are acceptable forms of accommodation.  They might have found a way to cope without it, but it would have been much harder. This is no less true for individuals with disabilities.

This appears to be the sticking point. or requested accommodation for the disability, they received public backlash – backlash that lasted for weeks and ended with the person feeling broken for asking for something that was necessary, just like the ladder and the highchair (yes – these are very simplistic examples).

Before you speak about a condition or a situation you are not living with or in – THINK. The heart you break with you choice words could take a lifetime to heal.

Self-Direction and LD Students

Leading up to Self-Direction and Readiness in the Lower Level of Education

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) say that learners cannot be ready to learn if they are not motivated or willing to perform the tasks needed in a self-directing manner. Self-Directed Learners SDL must be self-managing (understanding of the significance of tasks and the intended outcomes), self-monitoring (understanding what is effective and having sufficient knowledge about established conscious strategies needed to make-appropriate decisions), and self-modifying (able to evaluate and adjust to constant meaning and changes) (Costa & Kallick, 2004). A self-directed learner who is empowered is more likely to participate in a two-year or four-year college (Berry, Ward, & Caplan, 2012).

According to Grow (1991), there are several presumptions made with regard to understanding a self-directed learner. Some of those assumptions are that self-direction is the primary goal of a secondary educational environment, that self-direction can be learned, and that self-direction is situational to learners and teachers. The problem with assumptions is that educators have not been able to specifically and adequately define what the self-directed learner looks like (Costa & Kallick, 2004). However, they do agree that a quality of a self-directed learner is a learner who is able to orient her/himself to the educational process at all levels, and that the inability of a learner to develop self-direction can be a serious limitation at the post-secondary level (Costa & Kallick, 2004; Grow, 1991).

Some good self-directed learning models exist. For example, Grow (1991) uses a Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) Model to show how teachers actively work with students to help them to become more self-directed. The stages of that model are:

Stage 1: Dependent Learner: A learner is solely dependent on an educator to provide immediate feedback on what, when and how to complete a task.

Stage 2: Interested Learner: A learner is motivated by the educator to begin goal-setting and developing learning strategies.

Stage 3: Involved Learner: A teacher facilitates the learning but in partnership with the student.

Stage 4: Self-directed Learner: The learners can work and function independently and is meeting expected outcomes.

In a traditional educational model, after students enter the classroom ready to acquire new knowledge, they progress through the classroom by moving from being scaffolded to making educational transitions, to meeting transformed outcomes (Tanner & Tanner, 2007; Baleghizadeh et al., 2010; Field, et al., 1998; Verenikina, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). Shifting to the Lower Level of the framework, Grow’s (2001) Stages of Self-Direction are skills a student would develop in high school to be ready to begin a post-secondary education (Berry et al., 2012). See Figure 2.1, The Teaching and Learning Level.

 

Figure 2.1. The Teaching and Learning Level (from Chapter 1)

  • Stage 1 and Stage 2: Educator uses coaching and motivation methods to assist a student through the scaffolding process.
  • Stage 3: Learner moves forward and can transition from one learning goal to the next with limited assistance from the educator.
  • Stage 4: Learner becomes self-directed and can be successful in a post-secondary setting on her/ his own.

Beal (2005) places the burden of understanding one’s disability, their legal rights, and the securuing of the appropriate academic adjustments at the feet of the LD student. He lists five specific rights and seven responsibilities that students with LD have (Beal, 2005). The five rights are:

  1. To receive modifications on college entrance exams.
  2. To receive academic adjustments.
  3. To refuse to inform any PSI of any learning disability.
  4. To not have other’s ask for the disability to be identified.
  5. The right to be heard if it is believed any disability rights have been violated.

The seven responsibilities are:

  1. To become familiar with federal regulations that impact LD at PSI
  2. To understand what assistance is necessary to assist with specific LD
  3. To learn to effectively self-advocate
  4. To obtain documentation of LD
  5. To determine the availablity of support services
  6. To notify PSI of any LD
  7. To work with educators to address LD and unique accommodations

These rights and responsibilities presume that students have learned to be self-directing prior to enrolling in PSI (Beal, 2005). Grow (1991) calls self-direction the higher mental function that matures over time by and through a particular history and social interaction (p. 128). Unfortunately, most LD students are so busy learning the skills needed to move from tast to task (Stages 1 – 3 of Self-Direction) in the classroom, that they are rarely, if ever, trained to be self-directed learners, nor are they trained to advocate for themselves as described by Beale (2005) (Hitchings, et al., 2010; Hitchings, et al., 2001). Such a situation creates a “catch-22” for the LD learner.

Full text: Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.