Options and Choice: One Size Does Not Fit All

NOTE: October is Learning Disabilities/ADHD/Dyslexia Awareness Month

Sheryl Goldstein, parent of children with learning disabilities

Sheryl Goldstein

Blog by: Sheryl L. Goldstein, a parent advocate


I grew up with a learning disability (LD). It isn’t a secret, but I don’t normally share such personal information with everyone. I’ve grown to understand that the learning disability is only part of a student’s challenge.

I didn’t let my disability stop me from achieving many goals, although my educational issues created insecurities that led me to believe I wasn’t able to achieve at times. This belief caused me to feel down about myself, and that, in turn, led to poor self-esteem.

I graduated from high school, graduated from college with honors, and then found a job. Though I am certainly not the only person in the country to achieve these milestones, I am nonetheless proud of how far I have come despite what many had predicted for me.

Times have changed, including our understanding of disabilities, but often it feels like our educational system hasn’t. My own children are now facing similar challenges to mine. As their mother, I am learning as much as I can about their disabilities and what they need in order to be successful in school and beyond. It is only natural for a mother to want better for her children, but watching my children endure the same struggles I did has shown me that my children need better.

I am their biggest advocate.

Based on my own experiences and my children’s struggles with their public school, I’ve learned about the importance of school choice and options, particularly for children with disabilities.

I’ve also learned that many parents struggle to get their children what they need despite having medical diagnoses or documented disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism, LD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental health conditions.

Most parents usually know their children and how they learn best. Some parents like me find that traditional public schools cannot meet their child’s individual needs and choose an alternative method for their child’s education. But, too often, parents who obtain needed educational programs and services for their children understand the complex systems related to education or they have access to the best resources. What about the parents who do not have access to these resources?

The education system, student and their family should work together to find the best and most suitable educational setting for the student if a student is struggling. We all have different learning styles and talents. The notion that there ought to be choice and a variety of options for elementary and secondary education should be a no-brainer, especially for those struggling to fit into a traditional class setting.

I believe in providing students with what they need to be successful. I also believe that the American education system needs to improve on how it recognizes that each student has different needs.

For us to progress as a nation, it is imperative that we educate parents about how to identify when their child is struggling, what their child’s rights are under Federal and State laws, and to not to be afraid to ask for help and seek appropriate services.

 

NOTE: “Do you have a child with a disability? The Office of Special Education Programs provides funds to Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs). There is at least one PTI in each State. Please visit the Parent Center Hub to find your state’s center.”


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy

8 Comments

  1. I have been diagnosed with a learning disability as of 2010 about 6-8 years after taking multiple classes and failing I decided to go get tested through disabled services where I did find out of my struggles and now documented. Then Again in 2019 I retested with the same outcome after struggling to work jobs and maintain them.

  2. The struggle to help children with ADHD to learn and perform well in school is a very common problem.

    When my son’s teachers refused to let me sit in and take notes for him during test reviews, I bought him a special calculator that had a recording feature so that he could record the review and we could go over it together when he came home.

    The thing that was so unnerving is that they required me to go through a lengthy tedious process to get someone who was affiliated with the school system to attend those review sessions and take those notes.

    The following year we put him in a private school because we couldn’t get the cooperation we needed in the local middle school.

    It’s wonderful that you are involved in helping those children that are struggling.

    • Love your response! I also attempted to support our children. And was also told “oh, they would” and when they didn’t I got licensed here in Illinois and still they will not let me support either of our two special needs kids. They also will not let us “help” to train and/or inform the staff they hire (EVEN on the medical needs or self help skills (girl!) for our youngest)! We also pulled her from general ed to home school! That is just a joke! They write a “pretty” IEP and do not follow it and pretend they are following the law! I even offered for them to JUST show us their materials (notes, etc.) and I would enlarge them and add content (2D/3D/more examples or whatever) the EXTRAS the teachers had no time for and get her papers able for her to use! They repeatedly refuse, they stated in DUE PROCESS to the judge that they had all their teachers trained on her needs! I never thought of taping the classes. I bet our school will say no! She has a 1-1 sitting there taking poor notes and then blocking her access to the teacher as the teacher thinks the para is doing the IEP services! I told the Spec Ed this in the last IEP meeting! They say “oh,l that is not happening here or is not now” and I go yes it is and they go “oh, we were not aware of that’. I am in the building every morning and every afternoon for at least 10=20 minutes both times for pickup and drop off of both kids! I sit there and am 100% available to staff. We have 1-4 hour IEP meetings often! I agree with you! What about the parents that don’t have some or all of the resources that I do. I see kids that I can see need more supports. I see daily (parents don’t see what I do being INSIDE the HS every day) students that need various things and even just staff supports. But, in Illinois we are going to be paying our teachers now 40000 soon! And, yet as a parent I have to keep saying “um… she isn’t getting the work and you are not giving her the services in the IEP and she has C-F work. I have to POINT THAT OUT and they have the cool computer program that does all the grades and graphs on the kids academic history there! My child increased 2 grades in 5 months in home school with me as teacher/1-1 para for her! Yet, she still wanted to be with her brother at the HS and be cool with friends. I couldn’t say no and the school PROMISED to follow the debated/negotiated/time consuming new IEP we demanded they negotiate with us. HA, they lied! Again! Who would have thunk that? Parents you MUST, MUST be attending school with your kids! You MUST know what is their daily plan and what is happening in their subjects of study! They have a “next step” of college/jobs/careers/family whatever and these school years are huge and I promise you the local public schools are NOT in in for your kids! They are in it for the teacher’s kids to get straight A’s and tons of college credits and scholarships and awards and so on! They are in it so they have an EDU email and free access to educational material and discounts all over the US. They are in it for their own career growth and rewards. They are in it for the mgmt. (principal and superintendent) get upwards of 70-150000 for pay and includes pensions/vacation/phones/and on and on. Really???? I see our superintendent doing nothing most often. He stands at the games and smiles. He lied, under oath, at our Due Process. I could go on! He makes over 100,000! Yup!

  3. Sheryl as you know I have been lucky enough to know you and share part of the journey. Some kids just don’t test well and although I recognize that there needs to be a standard I’m not sure why there can’t be waivers for MCAS. A curriculum driven towards standardized testing is not an accurate judgement of ability especially for children with learning challenges. My son is thriving in an alternative learning program that is pass/fail and builds on his academic strengths. While it is difficult to correlate that with traditional grades I find his progress to be more definitive and that his critical thinking skills are better than just regurgitating material. However, he lost his math foundation in elementary school and now its near impossible for him to do algebra. He will not pass MCAS and probably can’t get GED. So finding a flexible program that met his needs and will allow him to obtain a high school diploma that is acceptable for secondary education be was crucial. He has so many other strengths and a culture that is throwing away students because they can’t pass a standardized test is not going to be successful. We need our public schools to integrate alternative learning. Not just vocational but other ways they can prove academic success. Keep up the fight mama!!

  4. Sheryl, I couldn’t agree more. Finding the right approaches, supports and fit for complex learners is critical to their success. This success enables a student to build confidence and positive self-esteem whch in turn, fosters further success. A productive collaboration between the education system and family is vital and requires careful listening, thoughtful approaches, and a collective open mind to explore the right options. This opportunity should be available to any family who needs this support.

  5. “I’ve also learned that many parents struggle to get their children what they need despite having medical diagnoses or documented disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism, LD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental health conditions.

    Most parents usually know their children and how they learn best. Some parents like me find that traditional public schools cannot meet their child’s individual needs and choose an alternative method for their child’s education.”

    This is exactly where we find ourselves now – wondering if our neighborhood public school is the best option for our son with ADHD.

    Not only is ADHD sometimes difficult for our son in school, but it is difficult for us, his parents. We don’t like feeling as if we are always “complaining” and fighting to get what he needs. Always being hypervigilant is draining.

    But like Sheryl wrote, we are our son’s strongest advocates. ADHD is like an whirlwind that leaves sticks and debris in the way. It is our job to clear our son’s path and to ensure he has the tools that will enable him to walk that path on his own.

    We are a team. And right now, I’m worried about my teammate.

    • Love your description. We agree! Best of luck, it sounds like you are an awesome advocate for your student. He is very lucky boy. We also don’t like ( I actually get very sensory upset) over the complaining and fighting (we have two with special needs) and the school thing. I actually hate it! It has consumed my life and I have actually made it a career that would be wonderful if it gave me any income! 🙁
      We agree, that we are just trying to make sure our students learn the needed tools and skills. I thought that is what they were to learn in a school atmosphere! Take care and keep pushing forward. Best wishes!

  6. Sheryl, thank you so much for sharing this information. That’s unacceptable that so many parents have a struggle to get their children the help that they need. I agree that asking for help and seeking appropriate services is key to so many struggles that people face.

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