Learning Disabilities and the Impact on Families

When children have learning disabilities, the impact can extend far beyond the classroom. Often these students and their families also experience significant amounts of stress and anxiety due to the academic struggles. As a result, the family dynamic can suffer. However, most of the research and remediation focuses only on the learning challenges.

After seeing at least half of her clients get upset when receiving feedback from their child’s learning evaluation, Dr. Deborah Waber, neuropsychologist and Learning Disabilities program director at Boston Children’s Hospital, realized that the impact on families is not fully appreciated or addressed. She and her colleagues developed a survey to screen for quality of life problems stemming from learning disabilities. Questions address anxiety, frustration, and the effect on family activity. For more information on their findings, see https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180628120039.htm.

At Learning Associates, we look at more than academic records in our evaluations. We ask clients to share information about their child’s self-image, attitude toward school, and relationships with peers. Families are given Conners rating scales to screen for attention, behavioral, social, and emotional issues. This holistic approach allows us to truly understand each child and make appropriate recommendations. We also make referrals to other professionals when necessary. Our advocacy work is designed to reduce the stress on the family by getting the proper support services in school.

Self-advocacy

When students participate in the formulation and modification of their special education programs, they are empowered. Of course, this wouldn’t be appropriate for very young children, but older children can add valuable input to these discussions while also learning important skills.

At Learning Associates, we encourage older children to attend the post-evaluation conference along with their parents. In doing so, we promote self-advocacy by teaching the students about their individual strengths and needs. Hearing this information directly from the professionals who assessed them makes the student a stakeholder in this process and also allows them to ask questions and provide feedback. It also empowers these students once they return to the classroom. They have a better understanding of what they need and are better able to communicate these needs. These valuable skills transcend the classroom and will also benefit them in the workforce and life in general.

In a report on fostering self-advocacy and self-determination, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) offers specific steps that educators, policy makers, and communities can take to empower students with learning challenges. For more information, please go to: https://www.edutopia.org/article/prioritizing-agency-students-disabilities.

 

What Happens to Autistic Students Once They Graduate?

Much of what we hear about autism relates to younger children and teens. Educators, parents, and advocates have worked to raise awareness and make elementary school, high school, and some colleges accessible to autistic students. Programs and supports within schools have been developed to serve these students who tend to achieve academically, but struggle with social skills.

But, what happens once they graduate? In recent years, this question has become a focus of educators, private companies, non-for-profit groups, and public agencies. Their partnerships and collective funding have created programs to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Fortunately, employers have begun to understand both the value and needs of autistic people in the workplace.

Microsoft has been at the forefront of this initiative from its direct Autism Hiring Program to its Autism Empowerment Kit, which provides employers with recommendations and resources for providing support and accommodations in the workplace. Most recently, Microsoft has partnered with University of Illinois to create the Accessibility Lighthouse Program to provide a pathway for autistic students to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, math, and engineering) fields. Social skills training will be designed to teach students how to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. The University will also build a digitally accessible classroom using Microsoft tools. For more information on the Accessibility Lighthouse Program, see https://cs.illinois.edu/news/microsoft-and-university-illinois-launch-accessibility-lighthouse-program.

For more additional information and resources:

www.autismspeaks.org

www.ncld.org

https://workplaceinitiative.org/

Twice Exceptional Students

Most people are not familiar with “twice exceptional students” who have superior abilities in some academic areas and learning difficulties in others. The concepts of “gifted” and “learning disabled” are often viewed as mutually exclusive. Thus, this group of students can be very difficult to identify and serve properly.

This is how the National Education Association has described “The Twice Exceptional Dilemma”:

Students who are gifted and disabled are at risk for not achieving their potential because of the relationship that exists between their enhanced cognitive abilities and their disabilities. They are among the most frequently under-identified population in our schools. Twice-exceptional students present a unique identification and service delivery dilemma for educators. Often educators, parents, and students are asked to choose between services to address one exceptionality or the other, leaving twice-exceptional students both under-identified and underserved in our schools.

These students tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Students identified as Gifted who demonstrate high intellectual ability and potential. When they do struggle, they can be seen as underachieving or lazy; however, an undiagnosed learning disability is often the cause of their poor performance. This can result in behavior problems and frustration.
  2. Students identified as Learning Disabled where the focus is placed primarily on what they can’t do. Learning challenges overshadow strengths, so the gifts are not explored or addressed in academic services. These students may end up bored in special education classes and act out as a result.
  3. Unidentified students who appear average and tend to work at grade level. Their abilities and disabilities mask each other so they are not screened for special services. They tend to stay in general education classes which don’t address their learning strengths or deficits.

Twice exceptional students are difficult to identify because their intelligence can enable them to compensate for their disabilities. However, their disabilities hinder their achievement and performance. Many are not identified until high school, if at all. Gifted students with learning disabilities may perform at average levels which can obscure the need for either specialized service. Without proper identification and services, they cannot reach their full potential.

Once identified, twice-exceptional students need programs and instruction to address both of their exceptions. According to the National Education Association, “The ideal fit for a twice-exceptional student and his or her educational environment is one where both the student’s giftedness and disability are evenly accounted for through appropriate education and services.”

Throughout my career in education, I have worked with twice exceptional students in different capacities. I have evaluated these students to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have advocated for the unique services needed by these students and have provided school placement guidance. My work as an IECA member has also involved workshops and presentations on twice exceptional students. In addition, I have made presentations to the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), Westfield Parent-Teacher Council, and Delbarton School on this student population. For more information, please contact my office. Resources for parents can also be found at www.understood.org.

College Acceptances 2017-2018

College acceptance season is always a time of celebration at Learning Associates and this year is no exception. After many months of hard work, test-taking, meetings, writing and re-writing essays, our clients are finally able to enjoy the rewards of their labor. It is with enormous pride that we share this list of acceptances with you:

University of Aberdeen, American University, Amherst College, University of Arizona, Auburn University, Bard College, Bennington College, Bentley University, Boston College, Boston University, Bowling Green State University, Bryant University, Bucknell University, Butler University, California Institute of Technology, Carleton College, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western University, Cazenovia College, Centenary College, University of Chicago, Clark University, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, College of Holy Cross, College of William and Mary, Colgate University, Colorado College, University of Colorado, Columbia College – Chicago, Columbia University, Connecticut College, University of Connecticut, Cornell University, Curry College, Dean College, University of Delaware, Denison University, University of Denver, Dickinson College, Drexel University, Duke University, Duquesne University, University of Dundee, Eckerd College, Endicott College, Fairfield University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Fordham University, Furman University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Gettysburg College, Goucher College, Green Mountain College, Grinnell College, Hamilton College, University of Hartford, High Point University, Hobart William Smith Colleges, Iona College, Ithaca College, James Madison University,  Johnson & Wales University, Kalamazoo College, Kenyon College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Loyola University Maryland, Lynn University, Marist College, University of Maryland, Marymount Manhattan College, University of Mary Washington, University of Massachusetts, McDaniel College, McGill University, Miami University of Ohio, University of Miami, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Middlebury College, Mitchell College, University of Minnesota, Mitchell College, Monmouth University, Moravian College, University of New Hampshire, College of New Jersey, New York University, Northeastern University, University of Notre Dame, Oberlin College, Pennsylvania State University, Plymouth State University, University of Pittsburgh, Pratt Institute, Princeton University, Providence College, Quinnipiac University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Reed College, Rice University, University of Richmond, Roanoke College, University of Rochester, Rutgers University, University of Scranton, Seton Hall University, University of South Carolina, Southern Methodist University, University of St. Andrews, St. John’s University, St. Lawrence University, Stonehill College, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, Susquehanna University, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Vermont, University of Tampa, Temple University, University of Texas, Tufts University, Tulane University, United States Military Academy, Ursinus College, Villanova University, University of Virginia, Wake Forest University, Warren Wilson College, Washington & Jefferson College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Wesleyan University, University of Washington, Western New England University, University of Wisconsin, Wittenberg University, and Yale University.

College Fit – What It Isn’t

“One size fits all.”  When I see a sign like that I doubt it. More likely “One size fits none.”

This question of what will fit is surely appropriate when matching a student to a college, where it’s far more expensive to be mistaken than when choosing clothes. Come to think of it, when considering College Fit, maybe shoes are a better metaphor than clothes.

  • When I settle in after a long day I might choose house slippers, to help me relax and forget my stresses.
  • My daily shoes are supportive and comfortable. They take me through a busy day or an easy one. I know they’re right as soon as I slip them on.
  • Saturday mornings bring running shoes to move through my day efficiently, even if I am just running errands. I want that extra bounce to feel effective.
  • For a hike in the mountains I might tolerate some discomfort in return for ankle support and traction. Achievement is the goal, and too much comfort is not the order of the day.

When measuring a student for College Fit, it is critically important to accurately assess the student’s character and aspirations first. Sometimes the great challenge for families is to strip away expectations, ignoring the winds of college fashion that blow through high schools. Does the young person show signs of stress and anxiety – then what might be an appropriate college to slip into? Is the student efficient and effective, more workmanlike than brilliant, but not a striver – if so, what strengths can be reinforced at college where diligent focus will be highly rewarded? Is the college applicant a relentless and happy climber – what tools will be needed?

College fit is an art that begins with a clear eye on the student. Searchable data found on the web alone is no more likely to create a great College Fit than shopping unfamiliar shoe brands on the internet by size and color is likely to be satisfactory.

Larry Blumenstyk, CEP

© 2017