A Letter to The President

When an attempt to advocate becomes utterly terrifying!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3rd Planet from the Sun

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

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

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“Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?”: What every parent can do to help a struggling learner.

I often hear from parents about the frustrations they have regarding the amount of learning their children get when they go to school during the day, but I hear more of these concerns from parents of students who have some type of learning issue.  I use the word issue, because not all parents that approach me have a child with a learning disability, and some parents that approach me have children with physical or developmental disabilities.

Regardless of who these parents are or what issues their children face, the question is still the same, “Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?” The problem is that there could be a lot of reasons why a child is not learning. It is possible that it is the teacher, it could be the curriculum, it could be the student, and it could be a host of other things (combination of things).

I am not taking up for all schools and all teachers. This is not a “they are right/ you are wrong” situation. We have an educational problem in America. WE do! We can all see it; we are all effected by it.  We all want better for our children.

Since we know this is going to take time, we know our children cannot wait and we know that schools need our help, let’s figure out what we can do as parents to make this work for now.

Parents, you have the ability to help your child grow.  You are one of the best resources your child has. Here are a few things you can try:

(1)    For whatever reason, your child is struggling to learn, accept it. It is ok to feel what you feel.  But get those emotions to work for you.  Let them fuel you when you are tired at the end of the day and want to rest, or when you would rather flip on the TV instead of read a book with your child.  Find that anger and use it to your child’s benefit.

(2)    Sit down with your child and talk about what it means to be a good student. I’m not saying your child is a bad student. I’m saying to help your child to realize that their job is to go to school and give it their best. I’m not asking you to talk about grades. I’m asking you to teach your child how to ask questions, to seek more information, and how to participate. If your child is participating, giving it their best, and still hitting brick walls, remind them that this is not their fault and let them know you are going to help them as best as you can.

(3)    Get a notebook and start documenting.  What happens when your child sits down to read? Observe what happens when they write – get samples and save them.  Take time to look at what they are producing. What happens when your child does math or social studies? Gather as much information as you can, so you can become an expert on what your child does when your child is learning.  The fact is this, your child’s teacher may have 20 or 30 or even 40 children in the classroom – they may see a picture forming – but they are seeing only part of it – fill in the blanks for them so that they have a solid idea of who your child is or is not doing. Doing this might help you to figure out that one thing that will connect your child to what they learn in school.

(4)    Find out what your child is supposed to know for class and reinforce it.

  1. Help them to write about it, read about it, and find fun facts about it.  You can make up trivia and play games with it, with your children.
  2. Get exemplars (examples) of what the teacher needs to see your child do in order for your child to show they have the skill. Use those to guide your child to where they need to be.
  3. Have them make books with their own understanding of he information.
  4. Set reasonable expectations about what you can do and then do it.

My goal this weekend will be to have my sons create their own trivial pursuit game based on what they are learning in 7th and 9th grade. I promise to take a few snap shots and tell you how it’s going. 

(5)    Develop a relationship with your child’s school. Let them see your face and know your voice. You may not be able to participate in PTO, but that does not mean you can’t participate in other ways. If you only have time to drop in and provide an encouraging word to the teachers and staff – that is a much needed contribution that will go a long way to helping you have a solid relationship with the people who spend 8 hours a day with your child.  Your communication with the school will help you to find out about other resources that might help your child.

(6)    Celebrate the small things. Every time your child makes progress – GET LOUD! Show them some love.  Learning is hard work when you have to hurdle over barriers. Show your child you appreciate what they have achieved. Be careful not to bribe them – that could be disastrous.  Cheer like you are watching the big game or like you just saw a miracle right before your eyes. Just them see that it mattered to you.

(7)    Write your stories down. Our government needs to see what you see. They need to know what it is like for your children. They need you to share. They see numbers on lines and graphs and charts. Those numbers do not tell them anything about what you deal with every single day nor do they tell them what your child faces.  When you document your child learning, make copies and send it to the people who make the policy changes that impact your child and the people who support them.

(8)    Get to know your community of educators. Your school is not the only group you need to have a working relationship with. Learn about your local department of education, most have additional resources online or listed in the office. Make a phone call, ask questions, learn about events and attend them.

(9)    Network with other parents. Learn from one another.  You will be surprised the amazing things you can learn from people who are in your shoes.

I realize that this is not easy, but since we can’t change the system over night, it’s up to us to figure out how to help our children regardless.  If you have resources that you would like to share, please forward them and links to the pages if possible.

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

The LD Experience Continues

This week I had the pleasure of conversing with a great group of people online about how it feels to be dyslexic. This is such a great thing to talk about because we often hear clinical definitions about terms like dyslexia, but rarely do we experience the individual perspective.

When I first read the title of this discussion thread, I was nervous to express my opinion because I have more than one LD. Still, the only way for any of us to really dive into such an issue is for someone with the issue to share – eventually the bits and pieces will create some kind of picture.

In thinking about my experiences with my children and throughout my life, I began diving into this question.  I explained to the group how individuals in my home had issues with the following (these are not all of the issues – its a baseline to help continue the conversation):

  1. Word recognition – We would practice a word all week, pass the test on Friday and though we knew what the word meant, we were unable to spell it by Monday.
  2. Word and letter reversals – Though there is discussion in the field as to weather this is a left-right issue or dyslexia or whatever.  What this means to members in our house hold is that we typically start from the wrong end.  Which means if I need to use a letter like b, d, q, or p, I might not know which one is B.  It means we might start from the wrong end of the word when trying to sound it out or we might start from the wrong end of the sentence.  For my son however, this meant he wrote backwards entirely for many years.  One could hold his papers up to a mirror and read them.  He is now in his teens and finds that this still happens from time to time.
  3. Direction – Only one of us can go to a location one time and find our way back. The rest of us must use directions, landmarks, and or symbols to get back to that location.
  4. Wrong Word Usage – It is common to hear the wrong word used for any particular item.
  5. Hand Signals – There is a lot of finger snapping, pointing, hand movements (jazz hands), and jabbing because the words will not come out and this forces us to improvise. It’s like a huge game of Pictionary – the image of what you desire to say is at the tip of your tongue and you just can’t get past it. It is not that we do not know the information, it is there and that is one of the most frustrating parts.
  6. Lists  – Forgetting is common, so we attempt lists, but we often forget those lists if we sit them down.
  7. Vocabulary – We all have limited verbal vocabulary and often write using simple vocabulary, but we have a vast vocabulary in our heads that we struggle to utilize.
  8. Recall – We struggle to verbally recall – though we can often write what is missing since we developed the writing skills.
  9. Vocal Sounds – Grunting is also common in our house when we struggle to use our words.
  10. Clumsiness – At any given time one of us will hit a wall, fall down stairs, trip on nothing, fall out of a chair, or collide into one another.
  11. Headaches – Those of us with LD struggle with learning headaches, as I like to call them. This occurs from the strain that happens when you are trying to make sense of what you see.
  12. Difficulty reading the words on the page – there are many things associated with this one items, for now I will just say that it’s like the page and the words play tricks on you even though there is nothing wrong with your vision.
  13. Forgetfulness – We continually forget important details or how to follow through when writing things out. We may begin on a thought and never branch out to the other details. We might forget why those details are important or that we forgot those details at all.
  14. Mistaking – This is harder for me to describe today, but say I write a paper and I read it over in an attempt to edit. Because I know what I wanted to be there, I have actually read the paper via what is in my head and missed mistakes that were actually in the test.

What this tells you is the experience to some degree, but not specifically how we have felt. We have swung the pendulum from feeling “stupid” because we are dyslexics, to feeling “acceptance” because we cannot change this condition, to feeling “joy” because we have found something special about our selves as a result of dyslexia.  There are days when I am proud to say I have dyslexia and days where I long to read/write/think without problems.

With these types of issues, how then did we learn to read and write?

We began slowly. Taking things one-step at a time, often to the point of exhaustion.

Attached I am providing the layout for the  5-paragraph essay. I created this and have used it to teach my children to write. I use this layout during the school year, in the summer and on breaks to re-enforce what my children learn in school. This is not a stand-alone tool; there are other tools you need when working with your children on how to write, read, understand, and express.

I began using this tool when my children where in the 3rd grade. It took a very long time for it to sink in, but we continued to work on this until they got it right.  I hope it is as beneficial to you all as it has been for us.

I will try to post more of these tools as I work through this blog.

If you have tools that have worked for you, please share them or send them to me so I can share them with a link to your website or whatever profile you choose. The more we share our stories, the more we learn.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Organizing Your Essay

Also, if you notice errors, please contact me. I am happy to fix them. I knew going into this experience that my LD might show and while it might be embarrassing sometimes, the only way you are going to understand what I am saying is to see those mistakes in my writing. I maintain this set of facts: (1) Writing is not my first language, (2) I write this blog to share information and to practice the skill. I hope each day to grow this part of my life. I will gladly make changes because it makes this a more efficient page. And I thank you in advance for your assistance.

The Hidden Disability?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visual Perception Issues:

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

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

Do you have difficulty remembering the things you have seen?

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

Auditory Perception Issues:

Do you have trouble understanding what others say?

Is your vocabulary limited as compared to your peers?

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

Do you have a difficult time understanding what you read?

Do you have difficulty with abstract ideas?

Do you have difficulty filtering out or distinguishing between sounds?

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

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

Olfactory Issues:

Do you have difficulty knowing when something smells bad?

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

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

Right/Left Discrimination Problems:

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have difficulty distinguishing between similar concepts?

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

Tactile, Memory and Mind:

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

Do you have difficulty paying attention to things around you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have difficulty controlling your thoughts?

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

Organization and Sequencing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.ldonline.org