Learning disabilities come in all shapes and sizes and affect families of every type. No one is immune, and everyone is susceptible. There are two stories I’d like to share with you; one of an IEP and the public school system, and the other of an ILJ and an understanding mother. If you are reading this you probably have a child suffering through school, and you don’t know what you can do to help. Don’t fret, because I’m here to tell you that there is hope!
He was a smart kid, he just couldn’t read. When he became frustrated he acted out. This led his teacher to send him to the principal’s office. When this action didn’t return the result he was looking for, Tommy looked for new ways to get into trouble. Before long he was expelled. A new school was right around the corner, and this was a turn for the worse.
Here, Tommy met a speech therapist, a reading recovery counselor, a behavioral management counselor, and a learning disability advocate. He was “diagnosed” as LD (learning disabled), ADD, and dyslexic, and an IEP was prepared. He was told that his mind was dysfunctional, that he was different than his peers, that learning would always be hard for him. He was sent to “special” classes, where he goofed off on work designed for 2 grades younger. He learned how to act out in just the right amount so as he wouldn’t get punished, but didn’t have to complete the assignment.
It wasn’t long before Tommy got bored with this whole arrangement. You guessed it, he became very disruptive; enough that the “special” classes weren’t enough. When he got teased in the lunch line, he answered with his fist. When he was taunted on the bus, his tongue jerked in response. The school couldn’t tolerate anymore, and neither could his parents. In 9th grade, Tommy was 16 and reading at a second grade level. His step-mother pulled him out.
She began working with him, taking the time to listen to him. It only took a few months before Tommy was reading, and enjoying it. His step-mother wished she had had the power to act sooner. However, the damage had already been done.
She was a smart kid, she just couldn’t read. When she became overwhelmed, she acted out. Her mom would scold her which led to fits of rage. Taylor would become completely unglued. Nothing would calm her, and everything exacerbated her. This became an everyday occurrence, and Taylor’s mom thought it was time to give up. She was beating herself up, worrying that she had ruined her child’s education.
But Taylor’s mom was no quitter, and she knew that homeschooling was the best option for her daughter. So she started searching. Researching learning styles, abilities, quirks, and challengesshe never typed disability, because she didn’t believe in them. She talked to teachers she knew, other homeschooling parents with educationally challenged children, and support groups. Before long, Taylor’s mom discovered the “problem”. She wasn’t listening. She learned that listening to her child was her child’s best hope.
Over the next several months, Taylor’s mom learned a lot about her daughter and her learning abilities. She learned that Taylor’s sensory system was very sensitive, and when it became overwhelmed her mind would shut down. She discovered Taylor’s triggers, and ways to avoid them, or ways to subdue the tantrums. When Taylor became overwhelmed, she still acted out. However, her mother knew that Taylor needed a break and her room was quiet and cozy. It was the perfect place for mental and sensory cleansing.
After a year of taking a break from “school”, and only focusing on personal development, Taylor began to understand herself. She knew when she needed a break, without Mom’s promptings. She knew, ahead of time, when situations would be too much; and she asked for alternatives. She also learned that she was no “better” or “worse” than any other kid her age. She stopped beating herself up for not getting the new concepts, and instead asked her mom for a different approach.
Together, Taylor and her mom developed an ILJ (Individual Learning Journey). This child, who could not read at age 7, was developing pre-school lesson plans at age 8. The little girl, who couldn’t sit still for a lesson, was teaching her little sister the ABCs. Taylor was allowed a little freedom to learn about herself, and now she is at or above grade level with her peers. She has a solid foundation to build on throughout her life.
What is different about these two stories? They start much the same, but the outcomes are very different. For Tommy, having a learning disability meant he was different, dumb, and disabled in some way. He was labeled and shoved through the system. For Taylor, having learning abilities meant she was a unique individual who had talents and abilities, and she developed them at her own pace.
For homeschooling families, a learning disability doesn’t have to be a battle or a disturbance. It can be a magical time for parent and child to bond, form a union, prepare a path, and trudge the journey together. Some “disabilities” are harder to understand and adapt to than this sensory challenge, but there is help out there for those who truly want what’s best for their child. A great place to start is learningabledkids.com.