As we continue our series on serving students with special needs, we’re featuring a post from one of our Illuminators who went through her own personal experience with learning disabilities. Here is Francine Rhoton with her thoughts.
When I was initially asked to discuss my experiences concerning children with learning disabilities, I thought, “Okay, I can talk about my kids.” However, the more I thought about it, the more I started to hyperventilate, break out in a rash, and have cold sweats. These are some of the feelings I experienced when asked to write even a simple email because, I too, have a learning disability.
Having struggled with my own learning disability, it was easy to notice my sons using some of the same coping strategies I had used throughout the years. I first noticed my middle son, who was in second grade at the time, having difficulty following more than a single step of verbal instruction. While helping him with his reading homework, I noticed him memorizing entire stories in an effort to hide the fact that he couldn’t sound out certain words. During parent-teacher conferences, I brought up my concerns. However, his teacher brushed them aside with one sweeping comment: “Boys are slow learners, and he’s young for his age. Give him time to catch up.”
In my heart, I knew that my son’s struggles were beyond the norm. Unfortunately, I took his teacher’s advice to allow him an extra year to catch up, but inevitably he only fell further behind. By the end of third grade, his frustration level was so great that he was acting out at school and home. Not fully understanding my options, I met with the principal and he suggested I write a letter asking for my son to be tested for Special Education services. This was a long and frustrating process that eventually led to my son’s learning disability being identified.
It was a similar story with my youngest son, who was having difficulties developing his verbal skills by the age of three. Having two older sons, I knew something was wrong. I started with his pediatrician, voicing my concerns during a checkup. His doctor tried assuring me that he was fine and developing normally. Ultimately, my concerns were again dismissed.
I asked my insurance company if we had coverage for a private speech pathologist. We did, but it took a month of daily calls to his primary care physician to get the necessary referral. Although obtaining the referral was a difficult task, it proved to be beneficial. After seeing a speech pathologist, my son’s speech began to develop to a more appropriate level within a relatively short period of time.
Using documentation obtained through the speech pathologist, I was able to get him scheduled for testing by the time he started kindergarten. At this point, it became apparent to me that it was up to the parent to advocate for the appropriate educational needs of the child, as no one else would.
Once I realized my sons had varying learning styles and abilities, I was able to develop a process that ensured their educational success. I attempted to treat each of them as equals while acknowledging and understanding their uniqueness. I supported each endeavor and placed an emphasis on tracking their progress.
Using my own learning difficulties as a baseline for what tactics proved successful, I began working closely with my two sons’ case carrier and provided updates at each IEP meeting. Our case carrier was wonderful—she would provide suggestions of exercises for us to try at home.
The duel attack of school and home yielded drastic progress. These supplemental exercises reiterated what was taught throughout the school day and allowed us to compare notes at each IEP meeting. If it weren’t for the support and guidance they received from their Resource Specialist Teacher, my sons would not have become the successful adults they are today.
Ultimately, all students are unique in their learning styles and abilities. Regardless of their disability, most are able to adapt to a variety of teaching styles and environments. As educators, it’s our responsibility to recognize when a student needs additional or alternative resources.
Fortunately, I was able to recognize my sons’ needs and devote a great amount of time to addressing them. This is not the case for many children. It’s important to be aware of the many known learning disabilities and become educated on the available resources.
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