Learning disabilities come in all shapes and sizes and affect families of every type. No one is immune, and everyone is susceptible. There are also various degrees of intensity of each learning disability, so one strategy won’t work for every student. This is why the public school systems developed IEPs (Individual Education Plan). The child’s needs and abilities are assessed, they are placed into categories, and an “individual” plan for their education is formed.
IEPs often hold, otherwise gifted, students back from excelling in areas of competence. Due to their “disability” they are excluded from many activities, and pushed through the cracks. A homeschooler’s approach can be much different, find more about this. The parents are able to watch and listen to their child, learn ways to help the child succeed, and encourage the child to advance in areas of interest and aptitude. A homeschooling child with a learning challenge is taught to learn what works for them, excel in areas of ability, and slow down on areas of difficulty.
Tommy’s Troubles and How His IEP Failed Him
He was a smart kid, he just couldn’t read. When he became frustrated he acted out. He wanted his teachers’ attention. His misbehavior led his teacher to send him to the principal’s office, detention, and eventually suspension. 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.
In the new school, Tommy met a speech therapist, a reading recovery counselor, a behavioral management counselor, and a learning disability advocate. He was “diagnosed” with LD (learning disability), ADD, and dyslexia; an IEP was prepared. He was told that his mind was dysfunctional, that he was different than his peers, and 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. His acting out was still not returning the attention he desired. He wanted someone to understand him, encourage him, and give him the tools he needed to succeed. Since none of this happened, 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. To avoid another expulsion, his step-mother pulled him out of the system. 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. He was 15; the patterns of behavior had already been set in his character. He could read at a high school level now, but didn’t care if he graduated. And he didn’t.
Taylor’s Tantrums and How Her ILJ Encouraged Her to Excel
She was a smart kid, she just couldn’t read. When she became overwhelmed, she acted out. Her mom would discipline her actions, 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. She began to consider placing 6 year old Taylor into public kindergarten.
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 challenges…she 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 the triggers that sent her daughter into shut-down mode, and ways that Taylor could avoid those triggers; or ways Taylor could alleviate her 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.
For an entire year, Taylor took a break from “school”, her and her mom only focused 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 mapped an ILJ (Individual Learning Journey). They took subjects that were giving Taylor a lot of problems, and broke them down into less stressful categories. They used activities that gave Taylor a lot of pleasure, and found ways of working her challenges into the plans. By the end of the year, the 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. At age 8, Taylor has decided it’s time to see what public school is all about. She entered her local elementary school with ease. She keeps up with the lessons, uses the sensory tools she developed, and enjoys her days.
What is the difference between 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 challenges gave her the determination she needed to excel. She gained an understanding that 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. This site is dedicated to families like Taylor’s and Tommy’s. They provide links to information on everything from Dyslexia to Autism, and support for the parents with learning-abled children.