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

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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

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

Significant Barriers to Self-Direction and Readiness

If Rebello (2007), Thorndike (1901) and Lave are correct in the notion that learning was taking what was learned from one situation to another, that it was the culmination of the similarity of situations, and that it would not transfer from one culture to another (Schwartz, Bransford, & Sears, 2005), then it is important to understand the linguistics and the behavior of the LD community. By understanding, proper theory can then be created to improve learning environments for LD students. As our messages help people to understand us (Derrida, 1997), our behavior and actions define us (Bruner, 1996), and our ability to be successful in our educations are based on how our lingistics are mapped to our behavior then, language as an independent object of study – vis-à-vis the LD student –must be evaluated (Chomsky, 1988).

Hitchings, et al. (2001) asks the question, “Can students describe their disability and identify possible accommodations that might be needed in the career path?” (p. 9). They state that students with LD have unique needs that have likely gone unmet while they were in high school. Let us return to Kelly again. Kelly can see her disability; she is obviously impacted by it, but describing it appears to be extremely difficult for Kelly.  Consider Kelly in two different scenarios:

Scenario 1: While in class with her non-disabled peers, Kelly often heard others discussing how easy it was for them to participate in class, how simple the exams were, and how little time they needed to study prior to a test. After the hours she had spent, attempting to understand, she could not imagine that learning was effortless. As an adult student, Kelly eventually confessed to a friend that she had finally gone to see someone regarding her learning issues, and the friend replied, “Well, if you get help, how is that fair to everyone else? You look smart. You are getting a college degree. Why would someone like you need help?  I do not understand what you are complaining about.”  Kelly could not forget that statement. What it implied to her was that her struggle, was less important than others, that somehow because she did not physically show her disability, that because she had not publically discussed her learning issues and because she was trying to get an advanced degree, that she was undeserving of any form of assistance.

Scenario 2: During winter break, Kelly returned home doubtful that she was going to go back to college. Her grades were average; her spirits were in the dumps. Her sister Melody, a beautiful eleventh grader with an easy 4.0 grade point average, and her mother, Barbara (an Human Resource manager), huddled in the kitchen snacking on ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches and drinking tea. Taking a deep breath and Kelly decided to tackle the situation head on.

“Mom, do you mind if we sit down and talk, alone?”

“Sure honey.” Barbara said, leading Kelly out to the front porch.

Melody, unperturbed, threw sandwiches on a plate and plopped down in front of the television.

Outside, Kelly sat with her face to the sun in an attempt to warm her body. Ready, she hoped, to explain what she was dealing with. Worried, her mother took the bench next to her and waited.

With an unsteady heart, Kelly began, “Mom, I am failing. I am not ready for college.”

“Failing? You make average grades. What are you talking about?”

“Mom, I do not understand. I do not understand anything.”

“You make average grades, that is normal to feel like you do not understand. What is it that you do not understand?”

“Class, Mom. I do not understand class.”

“You are just tired. College makes us all tired. You make average grades.”

“No, Mom. I mean I do not understand. I study forever and I still do not understand. I feel like a piece of Swiss cheese. I pack in all of this information, but still there are holes.”

Interrupting, Barbara took Kelly’s hands, “Kelly, no one gets everything. But you are ‘understanding’. Who made you feel this way?”

Reluctantly, Kelly decided to calm her mother’s frustrations. No. She was not ‘understanding’. But if she could not explain to her own mother, how was she ever going to make anyone else understand?

At some point, Kelly likened her experience with learning to Swiss cheese. She did, as Derrida (1990) and DeLanda (2000) have stated, learn language through the vehicle of: (1) the alphabet, then (2) parts of a sentences, then (3) a full sentence, then (4) paragraph construction and so forth. Kelly will test on information and, based on her grades, she does show average academic performance. Unfortunately, what Kelly is left to wonder is where in the Swiss cheese did this information go and why is she unable to find it on her own, express it to others, and use it the same way other students do?

Her communication issues are not only school-based; they impact her in all social settings. When speaking to her mother, the person who provided the most knowledge about terms and concepts to Kelly during her lifespan, she is unable to bridge the communication gap and express her struggles. Her mother saw her grades as evidence that Kelly was learning, but Kelly is focused on the word ‘understanding’ as evidence that she is not learning. In Kelly’s eyes, she not only has a language problem, she has a knowledge problem (Chomsky 1988).

Like Kelly, educators are having similar complications, and these issues are documented in reseach on curriculum development (Oliva, 2006). One example is with the use of the term “curriculum”. Educators are discovering that there is no agreed understanding/definition of the term (Oliva, 2006). The instability with the use of this term keeps educational groups from developing tangible, stable programs, because one academic program views and practices the term in one way and another program uses it another way (Oliva, 2006). What this highlights is that educators are training students to learn language based on non-ontogenetic theory (language as sign and symbol), while they are utilizing or being confounded by ontogenic principles (language as a specific and unique organism that is worthy of study) (Oliva, 2006). With educators struggling to use or adequately promote one concept over the other, how do they expect students, like Kelly, to be able to communicate where and how they struggle, and become self-directed learners (Lind, 2008)?

What is language? Willard van Orman Quine (1908-2000), renowned philosopher, from Harvard University surmised that language was nothing more than a social art in which meaning is attributed to individual objects, nothing more than a series of symbols, only useful for the purpose of communication (Quine, 1960). This is a very simplistic and rather uncomplicated paraphrasing of his work, but what the philosopher candidly espouses is the ideology that language as a biological norm is a fallacy because it is merely a rigid object in motion (Quine, 1960).

Enfield (2010) argued that the non-existence of language assumption is based on insufficient investigation that relies on the ideology that accepts that the biological function of language is not realistic because it has not been proven false and that the philosophy of language as a social art is merely a generally accepted principle. What Enfield is saying is that theorists, like Quine and Derrida, are arguing that the biological function of language is not realistic. Their argument this based on two principles:

(1) that the biological function of language is philosophical or inside a persons head, and therefore cannot been proven false, and

(2) that the philosophy that language is a tool used by a group of people that allows them to communicate, it is accepted, but in a broad way and therefore cannot be defined or proven wrong.

He went on to further note that it is impractical to study the arithmetic capacity of an individual by looking at a massive statistical analysis of what happens on the inside of someone’s head (Enfield, 2010, p. 24). Barbara was looking at Kelly’s academic performance as evidence of her internal perceptions, while Kelly was looking at her ability to obtain and maintain information, thus a language problem between Barbara and Kelly.

Language is a function of the entire body and worthy of its own study. Language is a series of cognitive functions, that – when taken separately – has other functions connected to it (Enfield, 2010). Like Enfield, Chomsky (1988) believes in the ontogenesis of language and with such asks the questions, “What are the properties of any specific language?” How are those properties acquired? and Why do those languages have those properties and not others?” Students with learning-differences (LD) access some properties of language but not others. Why is that (President’s Commission on Excellence in Education, 2002)? Educators need to investigate this in order to determine if this complication is a barrier to the LD student’s ability to become self-directed.

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.

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.

Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience

ABSTRACT

Current American post-secondary education policy involves the uniform education practices that are marginalizing students with learning-differences (LD) (Lind, 2008). Although LD students are considered in specific ways in American post-secondary curricula, many LD students do not make sufficient progress to be prepared for post-secondary education. Undergirding this study are cognitive and educational theories, because research has shown that both have an impact on an individual’s ability to parse language and navigate the rigors of the traditional classroom. By identifying LD characteristics, this research study seeks to examine self-identified LD students’ perceptions of barriers that impact their ability to process information, achieve learning outcomes, and manage their degree to completion.

Introduction

          Sometimes a problem within a culture is difficult to describe. However, describing such a problem has the potential to break down barriers that were once thought necessary. Those descriptions have the potential to create additional “tears” in an already broken community (Foucault, 1984). One “breaking point” is the inability of some to stay on course to become college-ready. It is reported that learning differences LDs affect one out of every five people in the United States, and that as many as one million children between the ages of six and 21 (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) have LDs. Unfortunately, expressing each set of differences creates boxes and labels that typically only fit a few individuals (Council on Postsecondary Education, 2012; Crokett, Parrila, & Hein, 2006; Lyon, 1996).

Consider describing an LD through an analogy called the Alphabet Soup Party. At the Alphabet Soup Party, the host of the party is providing the soup, but everyone needs to bring a bowl and a spoon. Most people come equipped with a bowl and a spoon, eat with those, and partake as they wish. For the LD student, one or more of the following will likely occur:

a)     They do not bring a bowl.

b)    They forget the spoon.

c)     They come with a fork or knife or ladle.

d)    They have a bowl and a spoon but pour the soup on their head.

e)     They have a bowl with a hole in it.

f)     They come with just their hands.

g)     They bring a plate.

From personal experience, having an LD can be easily misinterpreted by an educator. One result of this misinterpretation may result in making an example of a student or, in one memorable (personal) case, of shaming a student into compliance, or noting to an entire class that, “She is trying to be a comedian by making such a mistake on a spelling test!” Being shamed in such a way can be traumatic for a person on the receiving end, making it all the more difficult for a student. Having an adequate response to such shaming is not something that can be provided in these kinds of circumstances for various reasons. One such reason is that emotional and mental pressure can force a person to forget everything they have attempted to learn that week, and possibly the things they learned that year (even many of the years before). In some ways, this dissertation was birthed in that shame.

A clinical perspective can provide insight into specific LD issues; however, the purpose of this dissertation is to provide the personal and educational perspective of the student with learning-differences (LD). To assist with that understanding, the fictional character Kelly has been created to provide a personal account of experiences a person might have who is coping with an LD.

          Kelly’s story. It had been one long and tedious week. Kelly was not sure how much strength she had left after her trip to Margo’s Market to pick up some Henry Bakers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. Now back in her private room, Kelly held the pint of ice cream in her hand, her teacher’s words echoing over and over again in her head “Try reading it out loud or just give yourself more time. You will get it eventually.”  Every teacher she had had since grade school seemed to think that she was not taking enough time, and that she was not using every single brain cell she had.

Tears cascaded down her face as Kelly tapped the cool container to her head. She thought of all the time she had spent in the writing center. All that energy, and still the red marks in the margins of every writing assignment seemed to blur from one comment to the next, “This does not fit here. What did you mean when you wrote this sentence? It is disorganized. You need to go to the tutor for assistance.”

Rising to peer out the window, Kelly wheezed a heavy sign of exhaustion and placed the ice cream on the windowsill beside her. She knew that it was not just her English class that was distressing her. She thought about the late hours she had spent copying her science and social studies textbooks from cover to cover, the re-copying of her notes and her friend’s notes before that last nearly-failed test, and the late hours she had spent with the study group.

She had to just be feeling sorry for herself, she thought. Was she not? But that ice cream was the final straw. Smirking at it, Kelly thought aloud, “You were supposed to make me feel better. If that stupid store had not been changed around; if that stupid company had not changed its packaging, I might be eating something great right now.” Frustrated, Kelly pitched Mindy Magnus’ Non-Dairy Chocolate Tofu ice cream into the trash.

A History of LD Education in the United States

Samuel Kirk, a professor at the University of Illinois, created and defined the term “learning disability” as a disorder(s) in a person’s ability to progress developmentally with language, speech, reading and other communication pathways. Kirk is credited for developing the foundation for the way the LD phenomenon would be described in the United States (Danforth, Slocum, & Dunkle, 2010). However, learning disabilities go as far back as 1867, when German schoolteacher Heinrich Stötzner created a school for children who learned slowly (Opp, 1994). In his work with learning disabilities, Opp (1994) lists a series of German and French scientists known for their research on various types of neurological dysfunction. Neurologists work resulted in a presumption that a person with a learning disability had some difficulty within the brain (including damage or physical illness) or as a result of some type of brain and body disconnection (Opp).

It was this cognitive foundational research that led American scholars to classify individuals fitting certain behavioral patterns as “disabled” (Opp, 1994). The terminology “disabled” helped lead to legislation that provided protection and support to those suffering with an LD under The American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), reauthorized in 1997 and 2004 (Cortilla, 2011). The reauthorized ADA broadened the definition of the term “disability” set in section 504, and it developed new regulations in Title II, The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) (Cortilla, 2011).

In the past 40 years, LD students’ post-secondary access has increased for many students, but the ratio of degree completion has not improved (Brock, 2010; Equal Access Education v. Alan Merten, 2004). Brock (2010) states that one area where national higher education systems need to look is remedial education. Students typically placed in remedial education programs are students who are non-traditional, those in underrepresented populations and, students attending less selective universities and students in community colleges (Brock, 2010). Underrepresented and non-traditional populations include categories of persons based on their gender, race and ethnicity, age and disability (Brock, 2010; Cortilla, 2011). It is reported that 42 percent of students in underrepresented groups at community colleges, and 12 to 24 percent of students at four-year universities, are in at least one remedial course (Brock, 2010; Cortilla, 2011). Unfortunately, few of these programs have been assessed in a way that creates a connection between reform and academic attainment (Brock, 2010). This is especially true for students with LD (Cortilla, 2011).

Levine (2002) noted that the memory required to complete schoolwork was more strenuous than virtually any other career a person will have during their lifetime. He also stated that the extensive use of the memory during the schooling years is imposing a considerable burden on today’s youth (p. 91). Additionally, Nelson, Palonsky, and McCarthy (2007) discuss the hidden elements in the curriculum, calling them the “silent values that rule the entire curriculum structure” (p. 234). That is, curricula for the traditional learner include certain elements that are not translatable to the LD learner (Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Those implicit, or hidden elements are: mastery, connectedness, sustainability, engagement, and culture (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). The terms are defined as follows:

Mastery: ability of the learner to grasp  and establish command of the curriculum.

Connectedness: a linking of the to the learner either through sequence, coherance, idea, or through complementary learning style.

Sustainability: the ability of the learner to keep the information after it has been learned.

Engagement: ability of the learner to bring themselves emotionally and mentally into the process of learning.

Culture: the ability of the learner to apply reflective thinking based on cultural or learned experience.

While reviewing issues surrounding the development of a curriculum for LD students in post-secondary institutions (PSI), it is clear that a key issue facing the development of new ideas was centered in politics. Whose interests were being met (Nelson, Palonsky, & McCarthy, 2007)? For example, what interests needed to be met (Oliva, 2006)? What interests will have to be maintained for the continued success of any curriculum (Tanner & Tanner, 2007)?

Nelson, et al. (2007) explained that, at times, administrators in school systems try to serve too many interests at once. In doing so, they serve no one at all, which is especially problematic for the student with LD (President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). How do PSIs sort through the interests of so many groups and at the same time meeet the need of LD students to become strong academic learners? The effective planning and implementation required to design educational programs and curricula that target students suffering with LD, without interrupting the learning of non-LD students, starts with understanding where the problem is and where it is not.

          Learning-Differences. Nationally, a Learning-Difference (LD) is currently identified in the Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA) under the term Specific Learning Disability (SLD) (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991). This term, based on Title 20 of the United State Federal Law (U.S.C. § 1401 (30)), is defined as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations” (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991, p. 3).

Individuals with LD are also defined as having some problem that interferes with their ability to process information (Thomas, Louis, & Sehnert, 1994). Levine (2002) outlines ten steps that individuals will face when they need to solve a problem. One of Levine’s steps was the realization that there was a problem (p. 198). Pace & Schwartz (2008) note that it took the US educational agencies roughly one hundred years to establish LD programs at the post-secondary educational level, and that the emphasis of those programs was on “fixing learners” as opposed to fixing a curriculum. There is sufficient evidence that students with LD are facing barriers that keep them from becoming college-ready and self-directed (Cortilla, 2011; President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). Unfortunately, the perception of how LD students feel about the way their LDs impact their ability to perform at the college level has not been systematically evaluated.

Although PSIs are reevaluating how they view a student’s overall work (Daiker, Jeffrey, Stygall, & Black, 1996), measuring such knowledge is limited in post-secondary institutions (PSI) for a variety of reasons (Cortilla, 2011; Levine, 2002; President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). An individual suffering from an LD must show that the impairment meets two specific definitions: 1) they must have “a major activity hindered” by the disability, and 2) they must be “substantially limited” in their ability to complete that activity (Rothstien, 1998).

What does it really mean to have a “major activity hindered” or “substantially limited”?  In the context of Kelly’s story, manifestations of her LD are apparent. She is forgetful; she struggles with environmental changes, such as new decorations or new arrangements in a favorite grocery store. She is not keeping up in class, and she is spending a great amount of energy, in her study time, trying to keep up with her peers. However, does Kelly have the ability to adequately show that her condition is significantly hindering and limiting in her relationship to her peers? Providing evidence is problematic for her.

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.

Beginning of the Dark Woods: Not stupid after all!

When teachers dismiss children with learning disabilities

I write this post in dedication to my son, Alexander the Great!

When my son was 8-years-old he experienced a very traumatic event. An educator dismissed him at his school. This educator told our family that we needed to accept that our son “was not going to be able to learn, because her daughter was unable to learn.”  At some point this educator (speaking to another teacher on staff) called our son stupid within earshot of our son. This experience was very damaging to my son.  He had been trying so hard to cope with the all of his problems in school. Besides, he was 8. What she did was like punching him in the face and I had no ice to sooth it.

It was a very difficult situation to navigate as a mother.  I knew my son had this amazing mind, but I was unable to bring it out. If you remember, in an earlier post, I cautioned parents to determine if they SHOULD be the one to educate their child(ren). When my son began showing signs of LD, it was after he taught his 4-year-old brother to read. On his own, he would come home and sit down and teach his brother everything he knew about sounds and letters and phonics. Yeah, he spoke slowly. Not incorrectly. Not incoherently. He just seemed to be at his own pace.

He was not like my daughter; my daughter broke down into tears and cried like I was beating her. He would get distracted, talk to me, daydream, wander the room, distract, evade, and stall. He knew the letters, he knew their sounds, but he could not read without falling asleep, and it just took a long time for him to get a sentence out whether it was speaking to someone or reading aloud.

I noticed that my tone of voice often lead him to frustration. It was not the typical frustration my daughter had expressed. His frustration would lead him to near uncontrollable tears. I tried to use the same tactics I used with my daughter, without any success. We were not good learning partners because he was so much like me that all of our gaps (academically) were in many of the same areas. So, I determined that the best support I could give my son was to support the teachers who were supporting him. We found a tutor at our church, we put him in school and I followed the lead of teachers when it was time to assist with homework. I also began volunteering in his classroom.

One day his teacher asked me to participate in a group reading that included her, my son and me. We each held the same book and my son began reading. What he read did not make sense; it was gibberish. The teacher and I stared at each other and then we asked my son, “What did you just read?”

My son looked down at the book. Placed his finger at the end of the sentence and began to read backward on the page. A few seconds later, he looked up surprised and said, “Oh, I did that wrong.” He then started over reading from the beginning of the sentence.  He continued reading, but struggled all the way through that little book. Each time he started the wrong way, we visibly watched him take a deep breath and try again. He was yawning, tears came to his eyes and he nearly fell asleep as we watched. Talk about a light popping on.

The teacher requested an IEP evaluation and we began planning a strategy on how to help my son. Unfortunately, the school was not so supportive. The special educator (a woman with over 20 years of experience) felt that we were pushing to use resources that the school did not have. She was angry that I had pushed for an IEP. She said that I made my son think he was dyslexic and so he was acting like he was. She even accused him of faking it. It is one thing to read backwards, but he was also “mirror writing”. He had motor issues on one side of his body and he struggled with his speech. By that I mean that it took him a long time to force the sentence out – he would strain to find the right words or any words. These were just a few of the symptoms we had seen.

I like to believe my children are smart, but smart enough to fake this at the age of 8 would have been a stretch.  Similar to my daughter’s situation, the school discounted medical and psychological evaluations.

What stifled our IEP meeting was my son’s performance during the IQ portion of the test. We were informed that my son put his hand in the air and told the psychologist that he was done and started falling asleep. The tester could not rouse him to continue and they felt that my son should have finished the test so that the school could have had a better measurement of his IQ. We asked how long the test was, it was 2 hours long and he was tested in school before lunch. We asked why they did not retest at a better time. Our son was an early riser; he was out of bed and waiting for school by 5 am, which meant that he must have been exhausted by lunchtime. They said that he (my son) would know how to respond if he was given the opportunity to test again. Did I mention that he was 8?

The psychologist who performed the IQ evaluation said, “He performed better on parts of the test then I could have, so he will remember the test and the answers will not be spontaneous.” We countered that my son did not know the correct answers; he might only know what he already answered. Still they would not be moved to help him or to retest his IQ, even though there was over a 29+-point discrepancy between what they could measure of my sons IQ and his actual performance in school. The IEP was refused on the basis that my son was showing progress in class after the teacher and I began working with him on the day we saw him read backwards.

According to the school, he was 2-grade levels behind his classmates, but he had the “possibility” of improving because in the 45 days between our discovery and the reading of the test results, he was able to better perform some tasks in class that he had previously been failing. When we explained that he was spending 3 to 5 hours at home doing homework. They agreed that this was bad and requested that we drop it to 20 minutes only. When his teacher explained that we had tried this and his performance plummeted, the committee shrugged it off. Either we let him only work for 20 min, allow him to  fail and have limited to no progress without additional help or we work with him alone with no assistance from the school. Additionally, my son was NOT allowed to participate in Science clubs or after school academic clubs because he was “not academically ready” for such challenges and being apart of those groups could make it harder for our son to keep up with the other children. What that meant to us was that our son was not going to get help and he was going to be punished for having learning disabilities.

This situation, however, took a drastically different turn when that special educator called my son stupid. I could not resolve it by yelling at her. That would have only served to hurt my son more. But, I was angry. I wrote the principal and the superintendent of my district. They didn’t do anything about it, from what I saw, but at least it was a start for me.

That evening, my son had a dream. What he described to me was amazing. He said he was an elf and he lived in the forest that was his hair. Because he had thick, beautiful black hair, the forest was called the Dark Woods. In his dream there was a king and queen Sphinx.  Their kingdom had been split in half by a terrible fight. On one half of his head, lived the queen. The queen’s land was surrounded by clear water because the queen believed in justice. My son said that justice was pure because it required the truth. On the other half of his head lived the king. The king’s land was surrounded by blood. The blood represented the strictness and sacrifice of that came from the word of the law. He said that law did not require truth or justice, it only believed in what was written.

In my sons dream he was sent on this heroic journey, by an angel, to bring the two kingdoms back together. It was so profound. I knew I could not let that dream go away. I owed it to him to do something with it.

I expressed to him how proud I was that he shared that dream with me. I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper and I wrote down his dream. That weekend we decided to turn it into a book. He picked characters, chose their names, decided what they would be like and where they lived. He decided how many chapters would be in each book, how many pages were in each chapter and how much detail he could handle reading at one time. This was important because books that were too thick discouraged him. We had so much fun.  We did not care about typos of form. We tried our best to recreate the plot that our son had described to us.

I printed the book through an on-demand publishing company in order to give him something tangible that he could hold in his hands. This was something that was his. It was something that the teacher could not take away from him. He could see that he was NOT stupid. He had written a book. He was so proud.

Not long after my son was a reader. He may have been a slow reader, but he was a reader nonetheless. I moved my son to another school, in a completely different district. At that school he was placed in programs that pushed him and he was given the opportunity and support that was refused to him by his old school.

I attach a link to the first book in our tiny series. May you enjoy the story that came from a young boy who someone nearly discarded, because she didn’t understand that having an LD does not make you stupid. A person who did not know that having an LD it does not mean you can never learn, and it does not mean that you should be punished and not allowed to participate in programs that other children participate in; a person who ironically took a position to serve people with disabilities.

Every time I write a post and share a part of my personal history I think about this situation. I think about what could have been lost. What if I would have taken that persons advice? What if I would have accepted something that would have damaged my son for the remainder of his life? I pray often that I never fail him in this area.

To every parent who has been through something similar, I say keep pushing forward. Academic potential is a measurement of choice, based on a formula that is standard to only one kind of learner. That school could not measure my son’s potential, because they had no idea how to measure his version of genius. Do not allow your child to be stifled by the crutch of someone else’s potential, rather, allow your child to build their own formula and develop potential of their own.

You can purchase the book here: Purchase a Hard Copy of the book Image

You can even get the book on your Purchase on KINDLE

Until Next Time…