The Steps of Progress (19 years and Counting)!

For those of you who are parents, you know (especially when you have children with learning disabilities) progress is sometimes a slow crawl on a long journey towards adulthood. It’s hard to know if the decisions you have made in your child’s younger years are going to become the roadblocks or bulldozers that they deal with in their adult lives.

When I first discovered that my daughter was having difficulty learning, I admit to feeling apprehensive. I went to the people that I presumed where the experts (her teachers), but I found myself facing what I considered to be a brick wall. Most people thought that I should allow her to just be “happy” and let everything else (learning and education) go.  I don’t understand why we think that a child facing an obstacle should be forced to make the choice between learning and play. However, when it comes to learning disabilities, I find that is often the first response.

I can’t explain what that feels like.  I can only tell you that it is insulting.  It was so insulting to me that I determined in my own head that I wanted my daughter to have more than an enjoyable childhood – I wanted her to enjoy her life as an adult.  For that reason, we began writing and reading at home, tutoring over the summer and practicing those skills in other non-academic situations. What I mean by this is that I found a book and I scheduled our days, we would work for an hour or so and play for an hour or so.  If we took a trip to the zoo or the museum, we broke that trip down and wrote about it (wrote while doing it). We would walk to the library and read out loud.  If we saw a movie about something, we researched it to find out more.  When she was older, we took notes, practiced responding to questions and we dove into things that were unfamiliar.  It was not easy and sometimes she fought me, but we pushed on.

I recall other parents telling me that doing this was abusive. One parent told me that my daughter would grow up and become ‘wild’ because I had her practicing her writing when she could have been outside playing and enjoying her life like all the other kids her age. I cannot tell you how often I questioned my choices, especially those years when it seemed like my daughter was not making any progress or when she would take a test at school and come home feeling defeated and sad.

The only thing that kept me motivated during those times was the idea that my daughter was going to struggle as badly as I did if I did not find a way to help her. I thought about the insecurity she could face as an adult if she could not read and write and that was all that I needed to keep pushing forward.

This week, my daughter called and announced to me that after her graduation from college in May (with a BA in Business Administration), she will be moving on to a one-year graduate program. She is also hoping to spend part of her summer over seas. I leapt for joy – physically and emotionally.  I was so excited that I announced her good news over Facebook before she had the opportunity to share it herself.

When I look at her now, I still see that little bitty kiddo, struggling to hold her pencil. I see that kid who could not stay in her seat. I see that little one crying because the words in the book were hard to read. I see the kid who called herself stupid. I see the child who was picked on for being different. BUT, I also see an amazing and beautiful woman with hope and love and joy for any and every second that life provides.

I still question my choices. Maybe that is the price we pay as parents. However, I no longer question them as bad choices. I wonder what I could have done better, what would have made things easier, what skills can I develop to help parents in the same position I found myself in those years ago.

My advice at this point is – DON’T GIVE UP! People with limited vision will tell you that what you are doing is stupid, that your child should play instead of learn, that you are being mean for working for a future for your kid. Hold on to your vision! Do NOT let it go! Don’t let it drive you crazy, but use it to fuel your child to a lifetime of victories. I have faith in you all and I hope you have faith in yourselves!

I wish you a happy and Joyful THANKSGIVING!!!

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H.Res. 456: “Calling on schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications”

This weekend I took the time to begin discussing disability advocacy.  What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we address it?

It was my pleasure to discover that Congressman Bill Cassidy and Congresswoman Julia Brownley have written a resolution calling for the House to acknowledge that impact of dyslexia on students. Decoding Dyslexia- Co said that Congressman Cassidy said that

“the resolution is designed to urge schools and educational institutions to address the impact of (dyslexia) on students”  

In another quote posted by Decoding Dyslexia – CO, Congressman Cassidy says:

“Dyslexia affects millions of Americans, including many students. We know that many with dyslexia are among our brightest and most successful. If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs. This resolution pushes schools and educational agencies to address this challenge and provide evidence-based solutions for dyslexic students.”

This bill currently only has a 2% chance of passing, but this is low because people do not know about it.  It is up to us as citizens and especially those of us who deal with the impact of dyslexia to encourage our Congressmen and Congresswomen to join the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucasus.

Why is this important?

According to Dyslexia World:

A person suffering from dyslexia disorder experiences difficulty reading, writing, with letters, words, and numbers, as well as reversing letters and words. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of the children suffer from Dyslexia.”

But from personal experience, I understand that dyslexia is a life-long condition. It has taken me years to learn to learn and to teach my children to learn.  My hope, my call to my elected officials and to the rest of the United States is that you do not allow another student to struggle as hard as I did – as my children have/are.

If I could sit down with these men and women today – I would walk them through what it felt like to copy a text book cover to cover, to read – reread and reread information hoping to make it stick, to feel what it is like to confuse what is written and what is said – to have the thoughts get stuck, to feel stupid when you know your not and to wonder where on earth the information went that you spent so much time trying to remember.

If I could share a lunch with them, I would ask, if they understood that I have no desire to take something from another student in my quest to give students the same opportunity to learn.

I ask you now to reach out and write letters and ask your Congressmen and Congresswomen to stand up for these children and adults.

I will be posting this letter on all of my social media outlets and I ask you to consider posting it too.  Better yet, write your own and share it.  My voice is not the only voice that needs to be heard.

Special Thanks to:

Decoding Dyslexia – CO (https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaCo)

Congressman Bill Cassidy (https://www.facebook.com/billcassidy)

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (https://www.facebook.com/RepJuliaBrownley)

May we continue the effort to build awareness!

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Problems for the LD Student Continued…

Problems in secondary educational settings

Regardless of the approach, educators need to begin asking if students are mastering, connecting, sustaining, engaging, and feeling culturally connected to the material (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Unfortunately, since learning disabilities were discovered, the focus on fixing issues within a secondary setting has been on behavior modification either through assimilation (refusing to remove the child from the classroom or their peers) (Hogan, 2005) or through segregation techniques (Adelman, 1978), removing the child for a period of time to learn skills separately from their peers.

Studies have concentrated on specific problems that impact the LD community (Hogan, 2005). These studies include writing and self-regulation (Sadler, 2006), parent- tutoring interventions (Gortmaker, Daly III, McCurdy, Persampieri, & Hergenrader, 2007), inclusion methodologies (Hogan, 2005), self-determination interventions (Konrad, Fowler, Walker, Test, & Wood, 2007) and even career development (Hitchings, et al., 2010). Individuals with LD are defined as having some problem that interferes with their ability to process information (Thomas, Louis, & Sehnert, 1994), which forces researchers to ponder how those students approach knowledge (Onachukwu, Boon, Fore III, & Bender, 2007).

Regrettably, while studies have confirmed that interventions can work temporarily, there have been no interventions that have been proven to work long-term (Onachukwu et al., 2007; Vaughn & Bryant, 2002; Viel-Ruma et al., 2007; Willem, 1999). Willem (1999) documented the progress of students who had:

(a) significant learning difficulties in acquisition, organization and expression, (b) poor performance in reading, writing and spelling, (c) significant discrepancy between their potential to achieve and their actual achievement, and (d) learning disabilities that were not visual, auditory or motor (p. 25).

LD students appeared to make progress in the beginning but could not sustain that success after the intervention was concluded.

Vaughn and Bryant (2002) determined, after a three-year comprehension intervention to increase the skills set of English language learners with LD, that the intervention could increase the rate of reading but not the level of accuracy or comprehension. Viel-Rama et al. (2007) followed the progress of three students who participated in a study that was designed to determine if self-correction could help disabled students struggling with written expression. He, too, discovered that students were unable to continue to progress, once the intervention was finished (Viel-Ruma et al., 2007).

To understand LD individuals, researchers must look more at the population outside of the traditional student. Educators must consider the vast number of factors that could potentially impact all individuals with LD (Levine, 2002). Interventions must also be designed to meet the goals of the curriculum and flexible enough to get the LD student to participate and continue to utilize the intervention independently long after it concludes (Levine, 2002).

Research has also shown that individuals with disabilities have high periods of exclusion, both social and physical (McDonald, Balcazar, & Keys, 2005). These high periods of exclusion are theorized to be a result of the disabled person being discouraged from independent actions or thoughts based on a desire of “well meaning” family members to keep them “safe” from a perceived negative attitude of the public and other peers (McDonald et al., p. 493). As a result, according to McDonald et al., (2005), youth with disabilities have limited prospects. They lack the desire to pursue higher forms of education, they often struggle through underemployment, and they show low levels of engagement in their surroundings (McDonald et al., 2005). With so many variables (from educational theory to approaches to knowledge, and varied LD intervention) impacting the secondary education, educators cannot be precise about what each student, specifically each LD student, knows when he or she leaves the secondary environment (Sadler, 2006).

LD students in post-secondary institutions (PSIs). When learning about colors, most people learn the differences by comparing one color to another. They place a blue next to red or yellow and ascertain which is the color they need, based on the other colors that they have before them. However, when a person wants a specific type of “red”, or “blue”, they must evaluate that color to colors in the same hue. Research on LD is very similar. In an effort to identify students with LD, these students are compared to their non-LD peers (Danforth et al., 2010). This is helpful in establishing a beginning model of what the LD student looks like, but LDs need a continuum for reference by scholars and educators that is purposely centered on LDs, not to simply be compared with non-LDs (Danforth et al., 2010).

The term “essence” is a word that is important to the discussion of LD students, because these students are geographically, culturally, racially, economically, socially, educationally and developmentally separated from one another, but are struggling to learn in a post-secondary educational setting (Cortilla, 2011). This “essence,” or shared experience, is by some definitions philosophical, as in there is no solid evidence pointing to why/how this ”shared experience” occurring, nor is there any evidence that there is a “shared” cognitive/biological function that links LD students to each other (Hock, 2012). Individuals are only placed into the culture based on their difficulties, and even though this experience is definable, defendable and has with it a specific set of characteristics, the culture that is being evaluated is a culture of “what is not”. This means that what is not considered “traditional” is nontraditional or what is not “able” is disabled (LDA, 2008).

With regard to current curriculum development and educational practice, one could almost view the adult student with LD as twice marginalized. Research has shown that some LD students are able to develop coping mechanisms that keep them on par with other students in post-secondary environments, but little is understood about how these students have been able to succeed (Crokett, Parrila, & Hein, 2006). LD students begin and end their secondary educations with skill sets lacking in the type of critical thinking that is required to show and prove knowledge and learning (Cortilla, 2011; Kenner & Weinerman, 2011).

In a search of US colleges, it was discovered that most colleges promote the fact that they address all learner types in their efforts to promote their colleges (Pimlott, 1951). These schools promoted multiculturalism and equal education for individuals with disabilities, but unfortunately all were subjective to the individual schools and there were no solid standards, norms or rules (Weerts, 2011). These issues were further complicated, because many colleges failed to develop an understanding between what they wanted their students to learn and the proper atmosphere needed to promote that level of understanding in a diverse way (Brookhart, 2011).

In consideration of new legal, social justice and ethical challenges that will impact post-secondary educational environments in the coming years, a key issue that will impact PSI directly is whether or not the education that is being provided is equally accessible (US Supreme Court, 2004). “Accessible” is a term that is interchangeable with the term “open” (Honig, 2006). For colleges, this is a way of stating that their post-secondary setting has an open admissions policy, which means that it will accept a variety of students regardless of race, social economic standing, disability status, or gender (Honig, 2006). But the terms “open” and “accessible” are not synonymous with the term “equal” (Pinhel, 2008).

Banks (1998) noted that developing a proper multicultural/multifunctional education needed to be a top down process, and Brugha and Varvasovsky (2000) stated that without that type of approach, systems were not sustainable. A multicultural education is important, because it has been proven to boost the academic performance of all learner types, including learning-differences (LD) (Banks, 1993). If the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 is going to be successful as a policy, there need to be stipulations regarding how to create a multicultural environment for PSI on the national level that is explicitly designed to educate diverse learning populations (110th Congress, 2008; Chung, 2007/8; GOA, 2009; Honig M. I., 2006).

Honig and Rainey (2011) have determined that school improvement begins with understanding cultures with regard to what they do and then developing educational programs that provide those cultures with familiarity of their own culture. This is how educational systems have been developed throughout time: a set of researchers watches a culture, evaluates what they appear to do to learn, and then encorporates that system of understanding into the practice of education (Banks, 1993). LD issues have been outlined and noted. Unfortunately, legislation, regulation and policy efforts have merely outlined problems; they have yet to fix them (Brookhart, 2011).

Full Text Citation:

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.

The Hidden Disability?

A common set of phrases/questions I hear my non-LD peers say, “You don’t look like you have a learning disability. Is that a real thing or are you just looking for special treatment? You don’t look disabled.”

What I have learned from this is that people don’t understand things that they cannot see with their own eyes. When a person has a physical disability it is most likely visible. This is not always true – as some physical disabilities are not visible to the naked eye.

However, it is this lack of understanding that can make it very difficult for people in the LD Community. It makes us feel like we have to defend ourselves as a disabled people.

I can give you an example. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go back to school to try to obtain a college degree. At the time, I was a single mother of one. I was in an IT job during a time when our company was merging into another company. We knew that lay-offs were pending, so I went back to college to get skills in another vocation.

I had been in class with a certain individual for a few years and this year we were going to have to take a foreign language and a math class. I have never been good at math and I have NEVER been able to learn another language. I knew I was in trouble. Every day I sat in the front of class, taking my notes. I copied both textbooks from cover to cover, and I was hoping that “something” the teachers said would rub off on me.

The 1st day of this incident the other student was sitting next to me in math class and I had taken a huge breath and sighed. I had been up all night trying to study for two (supposedly) simple exams. My confidence was in the gutter because I could not remember the formulas and I was mixing up the vocabulary for Spanish.

I remembering the other student turning to me and saying, “What are you so frustrated about?”

“I’m nervous about this test.” I replied.

“Why?” She asked. She had a very bright smile on her face. Her eyes were shinny and blue. I remember them because they were so vibrant.

“Because I have a learning disability.” I remarked.

“Oh, is that all?” She said waving my comment off with the flick of her hand, “You’ll grow out of it. Besides, it’s not a spelling test.”

I thought about explaining to her in more detail, but she had already turned her head and started talking to another student.

The 2nd incident happened about a week later. I was talking to another student when that same woman approached us. She was happy that she received an “A” on both the Spanish and the math exam. She inquired about how we (the other student and I) had done on the tests. I explained that I had failed them both. The other student said she had done “ok” and left.

She replied…(AND I quote), “You have to learn to be more positive and stop letting this whole ‘learning disability’ thing be a crutch. I’m sure most of it is just in your head.”

That was the very last time I spoke to that woman. She may not have meant any harm, but she was causing me a great deal of it with her lack of understanding – her lack of empathy. I am sure she thought what she said to me was enlightening. I believe she may have believed every word she spoke. I regret not speaking up at that time. I am not sure what I could have said – what I should have said – but I should have spoken up. Truth be told, my frustration with her did not actually come from her. It came from the fact that I run into people like this all of the time.

This post is my way of taking a step in that direction.

There are multiple characteristics that could identify someone as having an LD. I am not going to be able to list them all. I have included a few questions with each category to help to show some ways an individual might be impacted.

(This is a sample. I am not a therapist. This information is presented to help to aid in understanding – NOT to diagnose.)

Visual Perception Issues:

Do you have difficulty distinguishing between color or remaining focused on one object when there is a lot of color?

Do you have difficulty with optical illusions in pictures and photographs or in real life?

Do you have difficulty remembering the things you have seen?

Do you have difficulty expressing to others things you have seen?

Auditory Perception Issues:

Do you have trouble understanding what others say?

Is your vocabulary limited as compared to your peers?

Are you able to sound out words, but still have difficulty with spelling and /or do you rely on others to spell words for you?

Do you have a difficult time understanding what you read?

Do you have difficulty with abstract ideas?

Do you have difficulty filtering out or distinguishing between sounds?

Do you have difficulty remembering the things you hear or need others to constantly repeat their statements?

Do you need to use your hands to gesture when you are speaking?

Olfactory Issues:

Do you have difficulty knowing when something smells bad?

Do you have difficulty because you are smelling too many things?

Do you have difficulty describing the way things taste and smell?

Right/Left Discrimination Problems:

Do you have difficulty distinguishing between letters like « b » and « d »?

Do the words ever flicker on the page as you read?

Do you have difficulty remembering what symbols connect with what letters?

Do you struggle to remember directions such as left and right?

Do you struggle with transposing numbers, such as using 38 for 83?

Do you have difficulty distinguishing between similar concepts?

Do you use the wrong words to describe things, mistaking up from down or in from out?

Tactile, Memory and Mind:

Are you over sensitive to touch and feel?  (Do you feel like you can feel one object through another, or like you can feel things you should not be able to feel)?

Do you have difficulty paying attention to things around you?

Do you need to rely on touch to be able to remember how to complete every day tasks?

Are you athletic (Are you good at sports, do you run often, etc.)?

Do you have difficulty with tasks that require you to have good hand-eye coordination?

Do you need to move your body  when you speak (gesture with your hands, tape your feet, rock your torso, etc.)?

Do you often need more time than others to process your thoughts?

Do you often think faster than you can speak (example : you write a sentence but miss a few words because you are going to fast)?

Do you have difficulty controlling your thoughts?

Do you have trouble remembering your thoughts long or short term?

Organization and Sequencing:

Do you struggle to see patterns or trends (Example : if an author is telling a story, do you struggle to see the clues that explain the direction of the story)?

Do you struggle to recall or distinguish between categories (Example : distinguishing between comparing and contrasting a plot or synopsis)?

Do you struggle to form logical patters with what looks like random information (Example: when reading do you tend to miss clues in the writing that point to the ending of the story)?

Do you have difficulty staying on topic when you are talking or writing?

Do you struggle to put things in sequential (abc or 1-2-3) order?

Do you struggle NOT to put things in sequences or in steps in order to process them?

Please take some time to get the facts. If you believe you are coping with an LD, seek help. Here are some websites that might be beneficial:

http://www.learningdifferences.com/main_page.htm

http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities

http://www.ldonline.org