Helping Your Child with LD Find Success: How to Stay Energized and Engaged
We are pleased to welcome Nancy and Danielle Graves for our first NCLD ParentTalk.
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As a parent managing a child with a learning disability you may feel you are traveling an unfamiliar route on your way to an uncertain destination. How do you garner the personal resources to sustain you and your child for the short and the long run?
Nancy and Danielle Graves have been working together to manage life with a learning disability for eighteen years. Having arrived at their destination, her college graduation, they decided to write a book about their successful journey.
Nancy E. Graves and Danielle E. Graves are authors of Surviving Learning Disabilities Successfully: Sixteen Rules for Managing a Child’s Learning Disabilities.
Visit their Web site SurvivingLearningDisabilities.com.
Read "Rule #11: Celebrate every Victory," from Surviving Learning Disabilities Successfully: Sixteen Rules for Managing a Child’s Learning Disabilities now and be sure to visit NCLD's Parent Center in the weeks prior to the chat to read other excerpted 'rules' from this book.
In their own words:
We did not know what the trip would be like, we didn’t have a roadmap and we had only a vague idea of our destination. But looking back we identified some valuable lessons that may help to support the journey for others.
In our book, Surviving Learning Disabilities Successfully, instead of chapters we have sixteen rules which we found to be keys to our successful journey. We identified two significant keys for successfully managing the many challenges of learning disabilities--staying engaged in the process and energized for the daily struggles.
Being engaged and energized for the marathon we face can be a tall order. It would help if we could see far enough down the road to know what we are working for and how it will all turn out. It would be easier to rally repeatedly if we knew how much will be required and for how long. But, the truth is we don’t know what the future holds. We have to get through today. As author Soren Kierkegaard wrote, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
We invite you to ‘look forward’ with us during our live chat. We will talk about how to help your child find success by remaining energized and engaged. We hope you will join us. It promises to be a wonderful hour.
Second, a mom saw her 12 year old son entering middle school with the opportunity (and consequences) for forgotten and lost items heightened. She describes two years of very frustrating times, but recently has declared success. How did they do it? She says she made the case for the benefits of taking responsibility for his ‘stuff.’ She also made him begin to advocate for himself. If he needed something such as copies of class notes, he would have to make a plan to go the teacher and ask for them. When he brought them home, used them with her to prepare for a test, and achieved a great result he began to see the logical thread leading from his behavior to a feel good outcome. She had to identify every need, coach him on the required behavior and follow-up, which was extremely frustrating for a long time. But, she credits her son for recognizing how much better he feels having gained more control and alleviated the constant battles. He is experiencing tangible benefits from his changed behavior. Focus on the specific behavior, let him experience the natural consequences and benefits, and believe it will improve. You and your son can craft solutions that work for him and when they do, celebrate each success. Doing so at his age will begin to prepare him for middle school, high school and beyond where these life skills are essential. When we are in the midst of these frustrating challenges it is very difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, experience shows, kids (like all of us) can learn how to accommodate for their weaknesses.
A planner is the single most important organizational tool I ever had. The parent’s organization provided planners to every student beginning in middle school. I committed to using it and it was key to my success. Sometimes being disorganized can feed on itself and make you feel defeated before you start. The process of writing the information, checking it throughout the day and at night before I went to bed gave me control and confidence. Give it a try!
Accommodations in college are not managed in the same way as grades 1-12. You should seek a college which will provide a culture of understanding and commitment to the environment your daughter will need to be successful. If she needs technology, dependent on what it is exactly, you may find solutions in computer software or online college support. Specific needs should be addressed to the college when you visit. Plan to meet personally with the disability support services. You and your daughter will get a good sense of what is available and the receptivity to make accommodations. Finding the right college environment is very much about each individual. Being able to identify what your daughter needs through her transition plan and your experiences with the school district (what worked and didn’t work) should provide you with a vision of where she will thrive academically.
For us,college was a fresh start and we tried to leave the baggage of twelve years behind. There were new educational challenges (and some same old ones) in college. But there was also so much personal freedom in terms of being in a new place, with new people that it gave both of us renewed energy that carried us through even the most frustrating times. We wish that for you.
I have to admit that I have forgotten (thankfully) or wasn’t aware (thankfully again) of a lot of the frustrations and anguish of middle school. But, what I haven’t forgotten is my mom telling me that we would get through the worst teachers and the toughest times. I liked that sometimes she was even madder than I was. I liked that she allowed me to be frustrated, angry and tired of the struggle. Being different is the last thing we want, particularly in middle school and high school. It is tough to hang on to your self. But, ultimately that is the most important thing. Feeling good about who you are as a person will allow you to beat any challenge…..and our challenges are huge. Finding something your son loves to do can allow him to build success and is clear proof to him and to you that he can be organized and build a plan for higher and higher achievement. If you son loves a sport, activity (musical instrument, art, bike riding, snow boarding) or animals leverage this. Having something you love to do is a haven from school and a source of great satisfaction. I love horses………maybe your son will love drums…………whatever he loves nurture it.
Every now and then we used to get in the car on a Saturday morning and drive away. No plan and no stress. We would drive until we found a little town we liked. We’d wander around antique and flea markets. Then we’d find a bed and breakfast with no TV and no phone. It was an adventure and one my sister and I sometimes complained about. What about our friends? We would surely miss something important. But that all ended when we left our zip code. Do something fun. Go to a ball game. Love the team. Fight over where to eat or what movie to see. Leave school and work behind. Laugh, cry and fall asleep in the car on the way home.
I would suggest following an unsatisfactory meeting that you write a detailed list of what you think needs to be addressed. Then ask for another meeting and distribute the list. If IEP modifications are needed ask for recommendations from the conference participants. If the conference participants do not support modifications, explain what is not working. Ask for a reasonable timeframe for improvement and a follow-up meeting to validate (or not). Do what you can to build a bridge because you are all in this together.
Many districts now have advocacy resources to support the child and parents in the IEP meetings and case conferences. Take advantage of this resource. If it is not available where you live, consider hiring a learning consultant to support you and the process. I do understand the various sides of this highly charged situation. I feel empathy for the difficult role of teachers and administrators. But ultimately we are fighting for our child's education and emotional well being. Allow yourself to be frustrated and angry. Make a revised plan. Get additional resources. Then get back in the ring.
Learning disabilities don't go away. Sometimes as adults they do prevent people from achieving certain goals. For example, reading ability or standardized testing challenges may be barriers to certain career choices. Fortunately, there are resources available to support your son to pursue a technical career.
There are companies and people who embrace differences. Your son's desire to achieve his goals will make him a great addition wherever he goes.
Colleges offer various learning environments. Research them, visit and then choose the best fit for your daughter. There are many colleges available with true commitment to students with disabilities. Once there, it is up to her whether to self identify and to advocate for herself. You and your daughter should decide what resources she may need.
If you have a trusted professional who has been working with your daughter you may want to include them in the college selection and transition process.
At that meeting you would like to be first on the agenda. My experience has been that there is so much to cover in these meetings and it is so difficult to get everyone there that once the meeting begins there is simply not enough time. Often an issue arises, as you point out, and focus is lost. Don't hesitate to ask for another IEP meeting and be clear that you are not signing off on the plan until you are comfortable with it.
The spirit of a child is about hope. They believe in us. By taking good care of yourself, taking one day at a time, letting the negatives go (as best you can), and staying the course your children will thrive. When I felt overwhelmed I let myself be upset and then be done with it. I wanted to let Danielle know that in spite of how rough it could be we would survive and still be us. Often times it isn’t fair and it isn’t right, but it is our reality. Letting stuff go is the only way I know to find the energy to battle on.
I believe that self-esteem is something we must nurture and protect at all costs. Get to know her friends. Volunteer at school to see the interactions. Being a room parent is a very enlightening experience. Keep the communication channels open.
My biggest hurdles: Understanding and accepting the magnitude and impact of learning disabilities on Danielle and our family. Finding the resources to meet the ever changing educational needs. Dealing with frustration and disappointment (without carrying it forward) in administrators and educators who often failed Danielle and then fought that fact every step of the way. Believing we could beat LD. Nurturing Danielle's self esteem. Letting her go when she was ready.
My Mom makes me cry, right! That is me: stubborn, tough, well loved and a survivor. My biggest hurdles; Believing when almost all voices and faces around me screamed failure. Dealing with judgment and unkindness from friends (especially girls). Finding a way to learn through repeated failure.
I don't know your situation, but I know, as most parents do, that battling to get the resources your son needs in public school (even outstanding ones) is very difficult. Be prepared to fight the good fight. Know what he is entitled to and demand that he get it.
Before you make your decision I suggest you meet with the administration, the special education department, and as many parents as possible. If your district has learning resources such as advocates and learning consultants meet with them, too.
I imagine it may be a difficult transition for you as parents. That said, if you are fortunate enough to have great public schools, and it is what you and your son want, then you will make it work.
There are learning "need to haves" and "nice to haves." If you can't tie your shoes you can easily find alternative solutions like Velcro or keep them tied and just slip them on. If you don't learn to read, that is an entirely different matter.
I know kids who couldn't learn to ride a bike and now compete in skateboarding contests. I was told Danielle couldn't sequence but she learned eight sequential steps to maneuver a horse around a riding ring including jumping three fences.
The testing of children and the prognosis of all of the things they can't and may never be able to do, often leave parents demoralized and lost. And many times the experts are wrong. They are but one voice.
Believe your child can learn and then observe, use trial and error and celebrate the victories. Find people who have been successful and follow their advice. Be willing to accept, in this competitive world, that not all milestones matter. Our doctor, our pilot, or our president may still be slipping their shoes on.
My challenges are really manifested in learning, in academics. Trying to learn like everyone else is where I fail. Ted, director of the DU LEP program, told me many times that once I was out of the constant stress of academics I would do even better.
I am loving the real world... I am not taking tests that don't measure what I actually know. In the real world individuals manage their day as individuals not to one standard. In the real world I accommodate to my weaknesses like most people. And in the real world I have highly developed life skills, because of all I have dealt with, that serve me every day. I find that in my day to day life, I have reminders of my learning disabilities, whether it be through a conversation with students, adults, co-workers, or whether it be from little things in my day. It took me through high school and college, to feel comfortable with my learning disabilities and accept that I am probably not being judged negatively.Most people, prior to this book, never knew about my LD. Now they are amazed in part because of the stereotypes of learning disabilities (the exact reason I kept it to myself). I am a confident person, but like all people we are human and have our moments. I may never love school, but I love learning and knowledge. I will thrive in the real world where experiential knowledge matters. I work with people who are generous with their knowledge and I am a sponge. Imagine if this rich environment existed in our schools.
Do you know any transition programs that address academic LDs, not life skills?
Can a student with these LDs go to college and be successful, even though she can't write at the college level?
The NCLD site and others have great information about academic LD transition to college.
Yes, yes, yes…we believe every student who wants to go to college can and should. For example, there are small colleges that specialize in LD almost exclusively. We visited a couple and they were incredible. If your daughter has the desire to attend college, you will find the right one for her.
Danielle: I think creating a transition plan, with your team at the high school would be beneficial. And finding out depending on which school you pick, what their services are. Once arriving to the university or college, meet with the service coordinator or counselor to help support you. While at the services, I would expect there to be writer tutors or the counselor him or herself who can help with each and every step. I would also consider getting a tutor that she strictly works on papers with. No matter how tough the odds and no matter how many people say she can't.....she can. We believe!
The Worried Parent of a H.S. Senior....
I read text books out loud, I wrote papers while she dictated, I revised, revised, revised, I interviewed her to access her stream of thought for a project, I listed her thoughts for her to prioritize, and I interpreted (read, discussed and rewrote) assignments. I have done everything from designing matching alternatives to second grade spelling tests (Danielle can't memorize out of context) to revising college level psychology papers.
Yes, the learning program at DU is excellent and it still was a very tough road. I continued to fill the same role of a learning resource and support for Danielle. It was less, but it was still significant. I draw this distinction: I have never done Danielle’s work for her. I am leveling the playing field but she is learning.
As far as letting go….there are two rules in the book on this topic: Let Go (a little) and Let Go (a little more). I followed Danielle’s lead. I did not push her on someone else’s timeframe, and as she stepped forward on her own, when she was ready, she did so with confidence.
I was so happy to be at college. The difficulties and constant aggravation of grades 1-12 were left behind. I think the fresh start at a college I loved was a dream come true.
My transition was bumpy and had its challenges. But working through them, with the support of my mom and some friends, was really helpful. Learning to be independent is a really important skill.I think persevering through an LD, can prepare you for being independent, with certain skills. Like advocating, being assertive, and being patient (sometimes). I knew I needed a structured learning support program and DU has an excellent one. Still, I soon found how very tough it was to self-disclose (when necessary) to each professor, negotiate accommodations if needed, and do all that in a highly competitive university. I had some great experiences, many successes and some failures. I learned from them all. I also developed connections with professors and LEP staff that were there for me when I would feel overwhelmed and have doubts whether or not I could make it. But, I knew I would and I did.
What other colleges did you look at before deciding where you would go?
Did you consider going to a community college, and do you feel community colleges are a good choice for an LD student, or is it better to look at colleges that have specific programs for LD students?
There is hope. We are absolute believers and want you to believe as well. Encourage your son to find his strengths and look forward to his future.
Just keep reading to him whenever you can. He has to deal with his incredible difficulties with reading all day at school. Sometimes being at home, being hugged and loved is the most important thing you can do.
Also, consider adding in incentives, so if he wants to play video games, then he needs to read something for 20 minutes. Start will small increments and as his self esteem and interest increases, then you can increase the time to earn the privilege. And read things that he is interested in, whether it be a small thing, like trucks or a big subject like sports. Also praise the small success, be over the top!
Thank you for joining us today for our live chat with Nancy and Danielle Graves, co-authros of Surviving Learning Disabilities Successfully: Sixteen Rules for Managing a Child's Learning Disabilities. NCLD would like to thank all that participated for submitting their thoughtful questions and to thank Nancy and Danielle Graves for their time insightful and informative answers.
For more information about Danielle and Nancy Graves, visit their Web site.
Purchase a copy of Surviving Learning Disabilities Successfully from Amazon.com.