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.

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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…

Confusing Topics: Langauge and Learning

I would like to take the liberty of explaining today’s blog post. I have, for quite a long time, struggled with the concept of language. My struggle has proven to me that language is key to helping us to understand how to serve the LD population. But what is this thing called linguistics anyway?

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. The debate about this topic is reviewed by some of the greatest theorist of our time. These intelligent intellectuals have evaluated language for a number of years.

Some believe that language is nothing more than signs and symbols. With this theory came the ideology that if an individual could learn the appropriate signs and symbols, then that individual could learn the language. Others believe that there is something unique about language. They believe that this unique quality about language should be studied and evaluated so that the world can really understand it.

I used to believe that language was a simple set of signs and symbols. I believed this so deeply that I was disgusted with myself for my inability to learn those signs and symbols. Therefore, when I began teaching my own children, I metaphorically, beat our heads against the wall in order to teach us what those signs and symbols meant.  I say, “teach us” because I was still learning the English language as I was teaching it to my children.

In Language: The Cultural Tool, by Daniel Everett (http://daneverettbooks.com/) he explains, why he believes that language is cultural not biological. He came to this conclusion after spending time with the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil.

I do not know Daniel Everett and I don’t throw out his theories or claim they have no value. I believe that his theories have a great deal of value. His work allows us to understand a culture far removed from our own. And his theories are not just things he determined from reading a book. His theories are based on his lived experiences with this culture.

Unlike Mr. Everett’s experience with the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil, my experience with language has been different.

I have difficulty describing this, but I am going to try.

When I began to paint, I discovered deep sockets of information filled aquifer hiding within me. Information that I knew I had learned, but could not access. I needed a well and that well, for me, was painting.  For me the language was inside of me. It was flowing through me. When I did not know or when I could not express the language because of my LD, the art gave me voice.

My experience was also altered by my experiences with my children. My children did not have a link to language because they were exposed to it in our culture and they don’t get my art in a way that makes learning tangible for them. My children had to discover the wells that accessed their aquifers too. Their wells were distinctly different then my own.

When my daughter was in Middle School she had the choice to take Spanish or German. To our surprise she chose German. One day she came home and said to me, “Mom, I think German is my first language.” The remark sparked a conversation that we have continued throughout the years. I felt this way about art and I am not an art student. I have no training in the subject but something happens when I put that paintbrush in my hand.

There are times when I am stuck on a question or a thought. I then lay out a large canvas, sit down on it and purge those thoughts in whatever colors are before me. When I stand, I understand. For me this feels biological, though many could debate that. I can then explain those thoughts in detail.

Writing my dissertation was the most time consuming, thought evoking, emotionally stressful time in my life. But I accessed that academic language through my paintbrush. It leads me to ask the following questions:

  1. What language are individuals with LD speaking?
  2. How can we help those students to access the language aquifer?
  3. Can accessing the aquifer help all students with LD?

One of my son’s aquifers was the well of history. We are looking for the well that will help him to discover the language of math. My daughter’s aquifer was accessed through the wells of math, German and one other well that is too difficult to describe on paper.

I would love to dive further into this very confusing subject and I thank you deeply for allowing me to talk it out.

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

Learning-Disabilities and/or Learning-Differences (LD), what is this really all about?

For as long as I have understood my disabilities, I have struggled with the terms “disability” and “difference”. There are some people who believe that using the term “disability” brings harm to the LD Community.  They believe this harm is the result of negative stigma perpetuated in our general society. Others, however, feel that the term “difference” helps the public to understand that a person with an LD processes information in a different way (they use phrases like difference not disabled).

While this choice is personal to the individual, it is important to understand is that the term “disability” has legal standing. The term “difference” does not.

I looked at two definitions when I started to write this article.

According to Dictionary.com a disability is:

dis·a·bil·i·ty

[dis-uh-bil-i-tee] Show IPA

noun, plural dis·a·bil·i·ties for 2.

1. lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability; incapacity.

2. a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job.

3. anything that disables or puts one at a disadvantage: His mere six-foot height will be a disability in professional basketball.

4. the state or condition of being disabled.

5. legal incapacity; legal disqualification.

According to Wikipedia.com a disability is:

Disability is the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these.

I looked at Wikipedia out of curiosity. After reading the term on Dictionary.com I felt negative. I saw things like “lack of adequate power”, “preventing a person from living a normal life”. Yuck! So, I went to Wikipedia.com to see what others might say. I found that the later definition was uplifting. It may be true that the disability community often lacks the power and the resources to help itself, but is that who we are – or is that a condition or consequence of our place in society?

I now believe that this is a condition of my situation and not a definition of who we are as a people.

However, before I jump into preaching one theology over another. I have to admit that I have used these same types of negative definitions. When I was young, I presumed that I was enlightened about the term “disability”.  I believed that I understood those dealing with conditions that impacted their living and lifestyle. I did not turn away friends who were disabled. I helped people in wheelchairs (yes I did just say this). I spent time with people that had disabilities. I defended people when others were mean. I told my children to be proud of their disabilities. I really did believe that I had a positive perspective.

But – when I began to struggle with learning, I did not consider myself to be disabled. For that reason, I did not seek help and I spent a great deal of time feeling ashamed of my struggles. If I was backed into a corner, I identified myself as having some trouble with spelling. Or I would say that I was “possibly dyslexic”…but no, never did I really admit that I had a disability.

As an adult, I had to face this situation head on. I had called someone to discuss testing. The difficulty I was having in school was becoming too hard for me to cope with alone. Every time I reached out to a psychologist or therapist, I was asked if I have other disabilities. The terms “Asperger” and “Sensory Deficit” were tossed about. The whole thought process made me angry. How dare those people call me disabled! In my head, I only had problems with my learning and that was all it was. Nothing more! I had researched this and I was not like – I hate to admit I felt like this – but thought I was not like “those people”. That was when I realized that I had the same prejudices, had perpetuated those same stigmas and had felt those same negative emotions that were now interfering with my own ability to get the help I needed.

Stigma is an enigma that cripples.

I finally bit the bullet and got my diagnosis. This event was both exciting (because so much of what I had experienced made sense) and painful (because I had lived for so long without really knowing myself).

I have shuffled between the terms “disability” and “difference” as I have worked to come to terms with my diagnosis. I believe that the only way to change the stigma associated with the term “disability” is for those of us who are disabled to proudly announce that we are and face that often negative public persona head on. I believe we must also face ourselves and examine our own fears and beliefs about these terms.

Whichever term you choose, make sure you are well informed about both. I hope to one day be secure in with my disabilities. Until then, I am at least determined to honestly face it one day at a time.

In the beginning, there was the letter “A”

Many moons ago I did what most parents do. I made the choice to start teaching my daughter how to write. I was very excited. I had found this little table and chair set at a yard sale and I had purchased these fancy little pencils with pink and red hearts on them.  I had even lined the paper so it had bold lines for my daughter’s first letters.  I wanted her to feel like I had put some effort into it (too much Mommy pride). See example:

________ 

– – – – – – – – –

________

(Just imagine this with a fantastic letter “A” in the center!)

It was a Saturday afternoon. I never remember what the weather was like. I know the sun was coming through the windows when we started. My daughter had on this red corduroy overall suit with tiny little flowers and a yellow shirt. Her hair was in these rather cute ponytails with balls on the ends.

I grabbed a piece of paper and I wrote a large letter “A” in the center of one of my homemade lines. Kneeling next to my daughter I placed the paper in front of her and said, “We are going to write your name. This is how you write the letter A.” I then showed her how to make the letter using her own hand.

To my utter shock and eventual horror, my daughter began to cry. She pushed the pencil away and tried to get out of her seat. Tears immediately streamed down her little puffy cheeks, her breaths were heaving in and out, and her anger was spiraling out of control.  It was just the letter “A”! I was not making her eat some exotic, creepy looking vegetable. I was not even threatening to take her favorite toy away. It was just the letter “A”.

But, when my daughter reached out and nearly hit me in the face, I had to take a deep breath and give us both a break. I honestly admit that I was heart broken and felt ill-used. I cried. I pouted and I asked myself how I messed up this supposedly fun experience for the both of us. Being a parent is not easy, but failing at the letter “A” is devastating. In that state of mind, it was clear that I was not going to be able to solve our problem that day. I gave in, but I told my kiddo that we were going to start again the next day.

It would take another 2 and a ½ weeks, lots of frustration and a great deal of back and forth before my daughter would write her name for the first time. For the effort she put in, the results were almost circular on the page, as she could not write in a straight line.  In those two weeks I lost more often then I won.

I share this experience, not because every child with a learning disability has these types of struggles. I say it to express how these types of issues can manifest in behavior. My daughter is a sweet, wonderful, talented, and bright young lady. As a child she was polite, calm, and good-nature. She was the kind of kid that was continually laughing…until I placed a pencil in her hand and watched her become a difficult, angry, and aggressive terrorist.

While I like to believe that I do not have to negotiate with terrorists, I had to make a choice. I was either going to negotiate with this terrorist (who happened to be my daughter) or I was going to break her in an effort to teach her this basic and vital skill.

Fortunately for us something happened after that time. We found a compromise. I can’t tell you how that compromise came about. And the honest truth is that a compromise with one kid with an LD may not work for another kid with an LD. I do recall that it was the result of quick thinking. This compromise helped me to see that my daughter was not the terrorist I thought she was and it showed my daughter that I was not the mean person I seemed to be those first two weeks.

The compromise also helped me to see that I was a good teacher for my daughter. This is not always the case. Many parents are unable to teach their own children (I had this struggle with my son – I will share more about that experience at a later date). The things that make a parent and a child alike are often the very things that make them incompatible as learning partners. My daughter and I, while very similar, had the capability to become partners in her learning and our first step towards building a solid partnership came during that compromise.

If you are a parent facing this issue, my first suggestion is to take a deep breath. Remind yourself that writing is a skill and you are not bad for wanting your child to write. Ask yourself if you are the right person to teach your child. This is vital. Your child can learn to love learning or they can learn to hate it, but it begins with a teacher who is stern when they need to be, supportive because they have to be, and easy when it is the right thing to do. If you fear that your frustrations are going to be too difficult for you to control, then you are not the right teacher for your child. Coping with an LD and teaching another to cope with an LD is not simple, easy, or light work. It requires dedication, the ability to work through the tears and a resilience of mind. If I was willing to give up or give in every time my daughter fought me on a lesson, then I was not going to be the right teacher for her.

Once you figure out if you are in fact the right teacher for your child, then I suggest the following:

  1. Take it slow: nothing happens over night. Your child will forget more often then they remember, so give it time.
  2. Use appropriate expectations: Appropriate does not mean low. Set high and quality standards. Work towards those standards in a time period that works with your child’s disabilities. If your child’s attention span is only 15 minutes then do not expect them to be able to accomplish an hours worth of work. As you work within that 15-minute time frame, look for creative ways to stretch that to 20 minutes, then 30 minutes and so forth.
  3. Get Creative: Most children do not learn the same – even though most adults need the same skills to be successful. Search for ways to teach those skills using as many creative methods as you can find.
  4. Great effort requires great rewards: Celebrate the simple. Make a big deal of those milestones. Your child is working overtime to learn – show you appreciate it.
  5. Thank Yourself – Take parenting breaks. Give yourself space and time. The more refreshed you are, the better teacher you will be. But treat yourself as you treat your child – you deserve it.

Until next time.