A Letter to The President

When an attempt to advocate becomes utterly terrifying!

This week I did something I have not done before. Well, that is not exactly true, I have written to the White House before. I have never written to the White House With a gift and a letter.

I have been trying to teach my children about advocacy. What is it? Why is it important? Why do all voices need to be heard?

I have heard people exclaim: “Everyone has problems, so why complain?”

That is something to consider, I guess. Was I wallowing in self-pity or was I considering something larger than me?  So I thought about it.  And, even though I have researched this subject for years, I did a little more.

On the LD.org website, they state the following facts:

  1. Currently 2.4 million students are diagnosed with LD and receive special education services in our schools, representing 41% of all students receiving special education
  2. Close to half of secondary students with LD perform more than three grade levels below their enrolled grade in essential academic skills (45% in reading, 44% in math).

(http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/learning-disability-fast-facts)

My own research showed that LD students in post-secondary settings were at least 4 grade levels behind their peers. Additionally, LD.org is counting the students receiving services, not the students who have not been identified or the students whose parents have opted them out of services.

My conclusion was: This was not just about me. I had this fear of saying this message to a person of such importance, but I felt compelled to write, to make some type of difference, no matter how small.

The events that lead to me sending this gift are easy to relay.

I had been writing and writing about what it feels like to have learning disabilities. I wrote to Congressmen/women, Senators, State officials, local politicians, and anyone who I thought might listen.  My goal simple! Well, I thought it was at first.  I wanted to help them to see what I have been explaining and not just read my words on paper.  I did reach some groups and I was even privileged to have a sit down meeting about it.

What I discovered is that we are seeing trends that bother all of us. These trends include the lack of academic progress for students with LD, even with all the money that filters into programs for exceptional learners.

This other discouraging information had me thinking about wanting them (those people in a position to do something) to see what I was saying. In a matter of seconds, I found myself printing out a letter I had been working on, grabbing one of my paintings right off the wall and sprinting to my local postal center.

I knew if I thought about it too much, I was going to put the painting back in my car and take it home. Beating myself about the head for my cowardice – sure no one would have seen me be a coward, but I would have.

I was nervous about even sending it. Who in their right mind sends a painting to the White House? I don’t know the President personally. I don’t socialize in political arenas and I have never done something so “strange” in my whole life.

I was terrified that they would hate it. I told one of the kids, at least now I can say that my painting got thrown away at the White House.

I talked to my husband who told me to calm down and my lovely daughter said, “It’s ok your fine no need to know all the answers. And who knows have faith, the painting may plant a seed and you might never see the fruit, but you planted a seed and that is something to be proud of”

Though she will readily exclaims she is only repeating something she heard/read.  Her words were comforting to me. She was right, if the President never sees that painting, someone will. Someone will know that someone cared enough about this issue to send a visual to go with the words. After all, it was my wish to make even a small impact.

I will never know what becomes of that painting. I will not know if they throw it away or hide it or hate it, but I tried.

I ask you today to reach out and share your stories. In loving memory of a painting I will never see again, this post is dedicated to:

3rd Planet from the Sun

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

 Beginning from the panel on the left… we see that on the 3rd planet from the sun, a girl is formed from the love of two parents (lower panel with the two figures). As this girl formed (triangle panel with the white), she bent over backwards (the red figure bending backwards) to discover who she was in life (the face in the center panel). Unfortunately, as she began to develop and learn, she realized that her way of understanding was wrong (the upside down tree that blends water and earth together in the top left panels). The tears leaking from her face represent her struggle. But the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows represent her courage to push forward.

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Visual Perception

In today’s post I decided to cover visual perception. For the past month or two I have been working with my sons on a project. The Dark Woods book project. We love the books we have written, but we would like to see them as a graphic novel. The idea came from the fact that my son thought it would be easier for other children to read his books if they were graphic novels. This was also important to him because the first book he read independently was a graphic novel.

Unfortunately, I am an abstract artist not a graphic artist/novelist. The writing of the books was difficult to say the least, now this. But, out of love for my son, and some strange desire to give something of myself back to him, I made the choice to try. It has not been easy. Transitioning from one art form to another is foreign; at least it is to me.

However, there is something that typically happens when you venture out of your comfort zone and learn something new. What happens is that you end up discovering something of value. For me, this something of value was that it helped me to take a really good look at my own visual perception and its given me some insights into my learning disabilities.

I have tried to explain before that I see things differently then others. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, lets look at a photo. This is my daughter (Say hello!):

Original Photo

Original Photo

My apologies the photo is grainy.

I did a free hand drawing of the photo without using lines or boxes (this is a tool used by artist to help with drawing faces). I wanted the photo to be the same size as the other one. But I had trouble  – see the photo:

My drawing without the use of the tools.

My drawing without the use of the tools.

Looking at the photo you can see the distortion immediately. To really evaluate it, I will apply lines and highlight a few of those lines.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Starting with line 1 you can see problems. However, look at likes 4 through 8. The eyes are too large, the nose is too long, and the mouth doesn’t seem to be where it should be. If you look closely you will also see that the shading is awkward (if you can use that word to describe art).  The shading of the lower eye in my drawing makes it look like I was giving my drawing a black eye. That is because I have difficulty understanding the color tones in the black and white photo that I used to create this drawing.

If I placed more lines on the paper, even more details and anomalies would show up. One might ask, how does this relate to reading and writing?

When I fail to see what is before me, I not only have difficulty modeling that thing, I also have difficulty describing what I do see. Anyone who has had difficulty with drawing would say that my art looks horrible not because I do not see well, but because I am not a good artist. And they would be correct; I am not a good portrait artist. Just like in school there are students who are not good in school because they are either not good students or they are not good in a particular subject.

What I am talking about are the students who actually see things in a distorted way. These types of distortions compound my difficulty with reading and writing. Are there other ways that things are distorted? Yes, there are. This was one way to actually show it. To highlight what things can look like when they are on paper.

Look again at the 3rd photo. If I was writing letters on a page, a teacher might notice something like very large letters that do not stay on the line (like the way my eyes and nose are falling into the next space). The teacher might notice that I may be missing details like a word or a letter (like how I miss the details in the shading). They might notice that I turn things backwards. This one is harder to spot in the drawing, but check out the bottom half of each earring, neither of them is facing the right direction. The earing on the left side of the face in my drawing is facing the neck. This earing should be facing away from the neck. The earing in the drawing on the right is turned towards the shoulder. This earing should be facing the viewer.

Now, how do I resolve these issues when I see things the way that I do? In regards to art, I have to start to use the tools that make artists better, like lines and rulers and shapes. These things are difficult for me to use because I am unfamiliar with them. I know a circle from a square, but I struggle with using the circle to create a face – so I have to practice this over and over until I can use it easier.  I have practiced at least one drawing per day for weeks now, and I am still struggling to remember tools I learned in the beginning. This is something we in the research community are working on – why do students like myself forget instructions, even though we might master them during the time we are being instructed?

When writing and reading, I have to practice reading and writing. I have to try various techniques and I have to keep using them until I learn to do them on my own.  Will I ever be a great portrait artist, I do not believe that I will, but the tools have helped me to create some art that I can be proud of.  Just like practicing reading and writing has helped me to be proud that I can communicate.

Attached, take a look at some of what I have been able to do when I have the right tools and some support from teachers and family.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

When you are working with a student who has reading and or writing problems, try figuring out how they see and if they can describe it. Then try to figure out tools to assist them in practicing. I believe that the more you use your tools, the better you become with those tools.

Until Next Time.

Dr. Richmond

From the inside Out

I have spent a great majority of this blog, providing definitions, discussing characteristics and outlining some interesting behaviors, all in an attempt to explain what having an LD is like. The problem is that having an LD is a highly individualized experience. It’s like sharing a dream, you can describe what happened, but, it is harder to help another person fully experience that dream in the exact way that dream made you feel.

Over the last few months I have been in the editing stages of my dissertation. During this time, I have worked with my Chair on the appropriate edits for my topic. A Chair (not the one you sit in) is a person who is an expert in your field of study. This person checks your work for quality and validity. Not every Chair helps in the editing process, but some will. I was lucky enough to have a Chair who participated with me through the editing process.

Editing a dissertation means that you will go over each chapter and determine if you are using the correct voice (your final will be written in past tense), if you are using the correct format, if your table of contents is correct, if your references are clear, if you got everything done up to the standard that is required for this degree. It’s pretty grueling process for many people, not just people with learning issues.

This was complicated for me due to the LD, so let’s discuss what that really meant.

Throughout my educational career, I have had a hard time reading black text on the white background. When computers began to be used by schools, I discovered that reading from the computer proved to be more problematic then reading from a book. Something about the color of the words on the screen made it hard for me to read and understand what was written.

I had difficulty tracking the line. This meant that I would be reading on the computer and find myself on a different part of the page a few lines down. If I was holding a book, I could use a ruler to help me track the page or I could underline the text so that I could see if I was having tracking problems by the marks moving from one line to another.  I could hold a paper to the screen to try to mimic a ruler, but found that the computer screen would light the paper in such a way that it  made it more difficult for me to remember the text. As a result, I was printing my entire dissertation.

Printing was the easiest way to see what could not be seen on the computer. However, once the document was printed, I had the other problem of trying to find mistakes while also having trouble reading black words on white paper. I found some errors, but not all and I had to mark those errors with a bright color so I could see them and go back and edit them on the computer.

At some point, my husband bought me an iPad because he thought it would be helpful. I sent the document to my iPad one day out of curiosity. The iPad proved to be a good tool, but it was not a stand-alone. I could change the color of the background to Sepia and that allowed me to see some of the errors that I had missed on the computer and in the printed text.  I am not advocating that the iPad was better than the computer or the written text. I used a combination of all three throughout the process. I would start on the computer; switch to the printed text and the load the document to my iPad.

Visually, when I am reading, what I see is something like blinders on the sides of my eyes. The blinders close off parts of the text. If I try to see around the blinder, the page becomes a white space without any words. Alternating colors helps me to see more of what is on the page, but not always. It’s like having a pair of spyglasses, and reading disappearing ink. If you use the glasses you can see the text, but if you raise your head and look around the room, the world looks strange. Now imagine using different pairs of glasses, some designed to help you see disappearing ink, some designed to make letters bigger, some designed to make letters smaller and consider all the various other ways glasses can alter your vision. Now, imagine moving from one set of glasses to another and that would be close to what I see when I am reading and writing. What I see at any given moment determines what I find on the page, the number of errors I miss, and/or my perception of the text itself.

When reading, I get segments of the text, which forces me to go back and re-read the text. When re-reading, I attempt to get all the way through the paragraph to make sure I have understood what I have read. This process, in combination with writing/editing makes me fatigued. So, I pull away from the text, take a deep breath and start again. Is this a complaint – no – it is really a statement of fact. Reading and writing are difficult to me because I experience them in this way. Having these difficulties does not make it impossible to learn, it complicates it.  This is part of what I deal with when I am reading and writing. This is also why I read my favorite books over and over – I find that I learn so much with each new reading.

Over the years I have developed strategies for helping me to cope with these issues. I firmly believe that I should use every tool within my grasp to assist me with these kinds of struggles.  But notice that I did not say that these tools would assist me “through” my struggles. I have heard some people proclaim that people “grow out” of their learning disabilities. This ideology gives people the impression that learning disabilities are a childhood problem. That is not my experience and it is not the experience of many who suffer with an LD. I am happy for those who experience something different – I just don’t happen to be one of those people.

I am not on the other side of the bridge looking back at and evaluating my journey through the land of Learning-Disabilities. Nope, I am dangling over the Grand Canyon, standing on a thin rope, in slippery shoes, as I hold a 3-ton weight on my shoulders. The thing that has kept me from plummeting to the bottom of the canyon is a solid support system, a drive to want to get the other side, and a tempter that could light a thousand torches. I am not a single individual working on my own to learn – I have had a lot of mentors, a wonderful support system, tools to help me help me, and I made the choice to want to push for something I presumed was outside of my reach.

Not everyone with an LD has these types of resources. Some are not able to articulate these problems. I am just learning to articulate them and I have been in school for a very long time. As other individuals come forward and share their experiences with LD, I am confident that our community will find the specific tools we need to deal with the types of issues I have described above.

Art by Rhonda Richmond

Art by Rhonda Richmond

Dr. Richmond, is a native of Denver, CO. She studied Communications, Women’s studies and Liberal Studies. To enhance her academic skills and to cope with her learning issues, she used experiential and creative writing. These tools allowed her to successfully obtain her B.A (2003) and M.A. (2007) from University of Denver.

By 2007, Rhonda enrolled in a doctoral program at Argosy University. When using writing was no longer an option, she began using art to express her thoughts and work through her academic difficulties. She finds inspiration for her work in her studies and from her family. Dr. Richmond successfully defended her dissertation on August 14, 2013 and she proudly advocates for  students with cognitive and learning disabilities, women, and multicultural learners. ​

​A Little More About the Artwork

​​​The artwork on this website would be described by Rhonda not as art but as a conversation. As an individual with  Learning Disabilities/ Differences (LD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Sensory Issues, she faced many difficulties when trying to use her native language (English) to communicate with the outside world. She spent a great many years of her life pretending to understand what others meant, how others felt, and why others did the things they did. Now, Rhonda describes herself a second language learner who just happened to be taught the second language first.

Rhonda’s work IS about telling the story, reaching out, learning to learn and using her voice.

The large canvases are not stretched. They are imperfectly folded to represent how Rhonda often found herself placing important assignments in her pockets and forgetting them. This is a tribute to her LD, in a way.  Rhonda will never be able to hide her LD, so she proudly lets it show itself in her work.

Many paintings are basic, almost elementary in form. This represents how many students with LD work as hard, and in most cases harder than other students, but still find that they lag behind their peers academically. Rhonda does not see this is an admittance of a failure. In her eyes the things she cannot express in writing or through speaking, will inevitably reveal themselves in her paintings.

Dr. Richmond believes all people have the ability to learn, but to be able to access it every student with an LD must find their first language and use it.  She states, “It will never be easy, but it must be done. Student’s with LD must be multilingual to be successful in a modern society.”

Her piece “3rd Planet from the Sun” illustrates her life story and her struggles with learning and identity.

**For More Information on Learning Disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Sensory Issues please go to the website and chick on the resources page #ArtbyRhondaRichmond