Your Child Restored: The Path from Suffering to Success
By Michael Hart, Ph.D.
Effective Advocacy for Your Child with Learning Issues
Discovering that your child has a learning problem can be very confusing, frustrating and often overwhelming. Many of us, even bright, highly functioning people really struggle with figuring out what to do. Oftentimes, our first reaction is to reach out to the school for help and support. For a myriad of reasons, we may find that teachers and their colleagues are ill prepared to provide all the help we need. In addition to the lack of training and support for the teachers, our education system is often a messy, slow-moving bureaucracy. In the meantime, our children suffer needlessly…Sometimes for years.
Just last week, while meeting with a group of parents, I was struck again by the pain and agony we feel when we assume that our children’s school officials have the know-how or resources to adequately support our students’ special learning needs only to find out that they don’t. I’ve been experiencing this pain and agony since I started practicing 25 years ago. That is TRULY needless suffering and we’ve got to change this.
To be clear, I am a huge advocate for teachers. The vast majority of educators are seriously committed to their profession and want to do their best. A lack of proper educational opportunities, inadequate professional development and limited resources frequently stands in the way of their ability to function effectively.
The primary example I use is this:
Facts about Dyslexia and Teacher Preparation Programs
- Research indicates that approximately 10% to 20% of our students struggle to some degree with dyslexia–a language processing-based difficulty with reading, spelling and writing.http://eida.org/dyslexia-basics
- And yet, three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers. http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Chapter3_FindingsByStandard (pp. 36-38)
- Virtually no secondary school preparation programs include curricula about reading and written language instruction in spite of the fact that dyslexia is a life-long issue.
The majority of our students who struggle with learning struggle due to issues with language-based processing weaknesses. So, first and foremost, how can you expect a teacher or educational team to help your child in this area when they aren’t given the education, training and experience to do so? The short answer is that they can’t.
We need to change that reality but it’s going to take decades. So I’ve come to realize that the path from suffering to success is found by changing our assumptions, expanding our focus and taking better care of our heart and soul RIGHT NOW.
Your Child Restored: The Path From Suffering to Success
Over the course of 25 years of working with kids and their families, I’ve created and refined a 5-Part Program where parents and guardians have to think much more creatively about their kids who have learning challenges starting at the very beginning of awareness of the problem.
The core belief behind my program can be obvious but also quite provocative and nerve wracking for the child’s caregivers. I very directly challenge the assumption that the experts lie outside the family. Parents must go way beyond contacting the school for help and understanding.
In a nutshell, PARENTS OR PRIMARY CAREGIVERS are always going to be the most powerful and effective advocate for THEIR child. NO ONE…Not your child’s teacher, or guidance counselor, or principal or therapist will be more effective than YOU. You may not feel that way in the beginning but you can get there. It’s important to remember that this is a process…a marathon, not a sprint. But you’ll get there…and so will your child. This is not to say that there is not a role for educational consultants. We can be very helpful but in the long run we often come and go over the years. We are most effective serving as anchors or guides during the critical moments when you need us. And we are most effective when we guide your self-directed education. It’s the old “Teach a man to fish and he eats forever” model.
My program, Your Child Restored: From Suffering to Success, is based on five key steps that a parent or caretaker needs to take. Here is a very brief synopsis of each of those key steps.
Part One: Fully accept and embrace the role of your child’s advocate
Many of us feel overwhelmed by the prospect of advocating for our child when we think we don’t know a thing about their challenges. Moreover, aren’t the teachers the experts? Far too often that is not the case. When we offer our children up to the educational bureaucracy, months and months or even years can go by before a proper remediation plan is put in place.
It behooves us to emotionally accept that we are not only able to take on the role but can be effective. And, as I will mention in Part 3, it creates a mindset where you much more rapidly begin to take a look at all of your options both in school and out. Remember that early intervention is key and that you cannot take the “let’s wait and see” approach.
Part Two: Educate yourself relentlessly so that you can make informed decisions
One of the wonderful aspects of the digital revolution has obviously been our ability to access information that previously was locked up far and away from lay people. There are mountains of content out there that you will find helpful in both understanding what you’re dealing with as well as what to do about it.
Initially, it will take time, like all new things, but you will grow your database of knowledge quickly. It is not rocket science. Even understanding the underlying neurobiology is do-able. Just slow down and you will learn the specific terminology.
One key issue will be your awareness of your rights in negotiating for services within the school district. Know them well.
Over time, your need for certain types of information will change. The demands of middle school are different than the demands of high school and college. How your child’s or loved one’s brain is wired will likely not change but how they use their brains to meet the environmental challenges will shift over time. Information regarding how to manage those transitions is available to you.
Part Three: Evaluate all of your options for supporting your child–both in your community and within your school district
The cliché that “It takes a village to raise a child” is a cliché because it is true. In most cases you will find that you will need community and home-based resources above and beyond what the school is offering for remediation and skill building. This may take the form of perhaps private school placement, extra tutoring, special classes (both to help with the dyslexia and classes that give your child or loved one pleasure), counseling and consulting, etc.
Fortunately, educational technology has become one of the most powerful tools for remediation, training and education. The software and applications available today are completely transforming how we work with our children. This is especially so for people with dyslexia. It is a “specific revolution” within the overall educational technology revolution.
Part Four: Advocate fiercely along the way. Be calm, be ready, be fearless and never give up.
By advocating “fiercely,” I do not mean that you should act like a bull in the china shop. A true warrior is calm, well-prepared and fearless. “Never give up” of course is the mantra for many struggles in our lives. In this case, it is a great gift to your loved one.
Dyslexia does not go away. Henry Winkler, The Fonz from Happy Days, is well known for quoting the following, “You don’t grow out of dyslexia, you just learn to negotiate with it.” So you have to keep at it and work to avoid giving up.
Again, having electronic access to information and having access to a community of others through digital media and local groups is so critical and at the very least you or your loved one will learn that he or she is not “broken” and you or your loved one are not alone.
Part Five: Take care of your heart and soul as well as your child’s heart and soul.
I am not sure that I can possibly emphasize Part Five enough. It’s often the missing ingredient for families who really struggle with learning issues like dyslexia.
For your child or loved one it is so important to help them pursue what they love to do and what they do well. Six or seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year our children are in a setting that screams failure for them. They need your guidance and support to heal their heart and soul by doing what they love.
And the same goes for you. So many parents or caretakers get so focused on the difficulties and challenges that they miss the value of replenishing their spirit.
Really, when all is said and done, what is most important in life?