Friday, September 20, 2013

Learning Disability or Learning Difference?


Re-Frame the Brain
“Cerebrodiversity”, a term coined by Dr. Gordon F. Sherman, is essentially the individual differences in brain structure and its ability to process information. Some of these differences can result in what society perceives to be learning disabilities, one of which is dyslexia. Typically viewed as a negative trait by today’s traditional school models, students with dyslexia struggle to read, write and spell with often insufficient intervention. This can result in the student developing a low self-esteem and related physiological issues. These differences in our brains become a burden, as children are reminded everyday that they cannot do what others can. 

However, if we are to examine Dr. Sherman’s work, we would begin to see “cebrodiversity as a vehicle for expanding thinking and discussion about dyslexia beyond the ‘disability model’ and as a step toward a more comprehensive model of brain and learning variation’” (Sherman & Cowen,  2003). Teachers, schools and communities would then approach learning disabilities as the “glass is half full”, rather than “half empty”. This would no doubt, revolutionize the way schools are structured, curriculum is developed and students learn. And, more importantly, students will see value in their differences and others.

More Than a Label
How can we encourage schools to support our student's needs without de-valuing their strengths and skills? And, more importantly, how can we advocate and empower our children to see themselves as valuable human beings who are not defined by their abilities and needs? Here are some thoughts....

  • create a mentorship program between older and younger students to develop feelings of belonging
  • bring in speakers, authors, artists and other public figures who have succeeded despite a learning difference, to demonstrate the variety of career possibilities
  • "de-mystify" learning disabilities by helping the student understand how they learn best and why
  • offer opportunities during the school day (before, during and after) for students to participate in that focus on areas such as sports, art, technology, games or current interests
  • find and recommend community groups that will develop talent and skills that are not related to academics
  • identify post-secondary options for all students, not just colleges for the academically driven but also technical schools, programs and internships

I’m certain, that if we take “can-do” approach with our students, we will see many positive results.  By understanding that the differences in our brain structures can be a benefit, we can begin to structure our education system so that all students can learn.


References:
Sherman, Gordon F., and Carolyn D. Cowen. "Dyslexia with 2020 Vision: Where Will We Be in the Next 10 Years?" Perspectives on Language and Literacy Winter (2010): 9-11. Print.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Want Inclusion?


Inclusive education is the inclusion of all students in the general education classroom regardless of ability or special needs. It is regarded as an ideal learning environment for all students, who learn that diversity and differences are a natural part of our world.  Unfortunately, there are many schools and communities today that use a model of education that excludes and isolates children with special needs and/or learning challenges. Thus, inclusive education becomes asked about, advocated for, negotiated or worse yet, denied.

Parents who want their children to receive an inclusive education in schools that do not practice inclusion, need to be well prepared before approaching the school with their request. They cannot assume that teachers and administrators have all the information and if they do, the correct information. Families also need to keep in mind that schools are guided by the direction of the school district. So, even if a school would like to become more inclusive, funding and support from the district may not be available. In any case, inclusion is worth asking for. 

Here are some strategies that families can use to prepare themselves before approaching a school to request a more inclusive environment for their child:


Get to Know Inclusion 

Turning on the computer and googling the word, “inclusion”, will result in dozens of articles that explain inclusive education. Some very reliable information however, comes from sites such as the Inclusive Schools Network and Wrightslaw. In addition, you can find information about inclusion from this website, the local library, disability awareness groups and the US Department of Education. Not only will you find accurate information, but you will find many other resources that you can access. Knowing as much as you can about inclusion will help you dispel any myths your school might have and answer questions that arise.


Get to Know Supporters

Try to find other supporters of inclusion in your community. Perhaps there is another school that is already inclusive or there is a parent group that advocates for inclusion. They might already have the information you are looking for or hand-outs to give to administrators. A parent group can offer advice and tips for meeting with schools. Building a network of inclusion supporters is valuable and vital to your goals.



Get to Know the Teacher/Paraprofessional 

Take the time to know your child’s teacher and/or paraprofessional.  Both can offer insight and information about the school administration and resources available. Volunteering in the classroom is often a informal way of establishing positive, working relationships with those who work closest with your child.

Preparation and planning before you meet with your child’s school to discuss inclusion is an important job that shouldn’t be left undone. Just as you would prepare for an interview or study for a test, learning as much as you can about inclusion will help you be better equipped to discuss the rights and needs of your child. Write down key points and take your notes into the meeting with you. But, above all, remember that you know your child best and you want the best for your child.



Note - I originally wrote this blogpost for the site, Handicap This! Productions.