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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“May I please have a peanut butter sandwich?

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

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

That was nearly 17 years ago.

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

Disclaimer:

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

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

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

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

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

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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