Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month
My name is Douglas Rawan II. I am 11-years-old, live in Massachusetts, and I have a story about dyslexia.
It starts back in fourth grade when I began to feel different than my friends in school. Making jokes was the way I would cover up having no confidence in school. No one knew that inside I felt stupid. I remember one day when my mom asked me to do some reading and writing, and I threw pencils on the floor and my book. I remember my mom looked really sad. Inside I knew it would be too hard, but I didn’t know why. Since Kindergarten, my mom hired tutors to help with reading, but nothing changed at school. I also had a hard time focusing at school until one day I came home and told my mom that I asked the assistant principal for a standing desk. My parents didn’t even know what that was.
Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.
Carter Grace Duncan
Carter Grace Duncan is a freshman in a Northern Virginia public high school. She is a youth advocate for Decoding Dyslexia Virginia who enjoys sharing her knowledge with students with disabilities about how accommodations in school can help create a pathway to academic success.
A teacher can make the difference between a good day and a bad one.
Actually, they can make or break a child’s entire school year by understanding what accommodations in a 504 plan or an individualized education program (IEP) can do to help a person like me who works everyday to overcome the impact of dyslexia, dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
I think I am lucky to have been surrounded by teachers who worked hard to make sure I was able to be as successful as my peers.
I have had a 504 plan since the fourth grade. It’s supported me through elementary school, middle school and now into high school.
At the beginning of the year, I introduce myself and my accommodations through email. I think it’s important for my teachers to know why I benefit from something that most of the other kids in my class don’t use. The game changers for me include:
Dyslexia makes me read slowly and work hard to decode words. This means that it takes me more time to take tests. Knowing that I can work hard and answer the questions correctly at my own pace is very helpful for me. I would like to be able to show my teacher what I know.
Read on demand
Reading and spelling are harder for me than my classmates. I can decode almost any word after my remediation; it just takes me some time to do it if it’s a harder word. If I am really stuck, I would like to ask for help to have the word or phrase read to me. It makes me way more comfortable in class to know that if I get stuck, my teacher will know that I really need the help.
Small group testing
It helps to be on my own or in a smaller group. If I am taking a test with the class I might get to the third question and someone next to me is finished with the test because they can read it faster. I’d like to be able to focus on the content and do my best.
I use my iPad to ear read (text to speech) everything I can. Eye reading is tiring for me. Sometimes, I use an app to change a handout to a readable PDF and then ear read it, if I need to. Normally, I just eye read the handouts. My iPad also has an app that will let me record the classroom lecture, if I need it. I don’t access the curriculum exactly like my peers, but the system in place right now works really well for me.
I am dysgraphic, too. That means it is hard for me to put my thoughts onto paper quickly. I learn best by listening to the teacher first and then practicing what I have learned. It is very hard for me to listen and copy things from the board or write things down as the teacher is talking. I take notes, but I miss a lot. The teacher’s notes help me make sure that I don’t miss anything when I am studying.
Advanced notice when called on to read in class
This accommodation makes me feel comfortable in class. It feels terrible if I think I might be called on to read out loud without knowing what I am going to read. If my teacher wants me to read something, they’ll just tell me the night before and I will practice first. I am a good reader now, but I still get nervous when I have to read out loud. Messing up on a word like ‘began’ feels really bad in a classroom full of my classmates. That’s what dyslexia will do to me.
With the help of my parents, my teachers and my accommodations, I’ve created a successful learning environment for myself. Because I need to work very hard to achieve the academic success I’ve had, I don’t take anything for granted. I appreciate my teachers who have made an effort to understand me and my accommodations.
Teachers really do make all the difference!
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.
David Flink is founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye and author of Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities
October is Learning Disabilities (LD) Awareness Month, a time when the nation turns its attention to the one in five students who learn differently because they have dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other learning and/or attention issues. Eye to Eye honors the LD/ADHD community this month and throughout the year.
As Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently, “This is a time to understand how these disabilities impact students and their families, to reflect on the significant achievements that these students have made, and to renew our commitment to creating a stronger future for them.”
What does awareness actually mean? What would real awareness look like in our schools, homes, and workplaces? How can we unlock the potential of different learners and create a world where all learners can thrive?
Eye to Eye is the only national mentoring movement that pairs kids who have learning disabilities and ADHD with college and high school mentors who have been similarly labeled. We are an organization for people with LD/ADHD by people with LD/ADHD. And we believe that one of the most powerful things you can do is share your own LD/ADHD story or the story of someone you love.
Owning your LD, then speaking it loud and proud, is the first step in breaking the stigma. When you share your truth, you help a kid feel seen. You tell them they’re not alone. They start to see their future and their potential in a whole new way.
That’s why Eye to Eye mentors work with kids in middle school, telling them, “I’ve been where you are. I made it, you will, too.” It’s why our Eye to Eye Diplomats, who range from successful students to established professionals, speak around the country, saying, “I am what LD/ADHD looks and sounds like and here is how I found success.
I started Eye to Eye in 1998 because that didn’t happen when I was kid. I was a 5th grader who couldn’t read. No matter how much my parents supported me, I had no role models with LD/ADHD. If national statistics hold true, one in five educators has a learning difference or a family member who does. But that would have never occurred to me, I thought I was alone.
It was only after I graduated from Brown University and finished my graduate work in Dis/Ability Studies at Columbia that one of my teachers called to say, “I am dyslexic.” That was revolutionary to me, that one act of sharing.
Imagine that happening in homes and classrooms across the country. What it would mean to kids to hear that the adults in their lives face the same challenges they do.
It would break the stigma. It would create a safe space where a kid can say, “I really think I could learn better if I just had this.” Allowing kids to listen instead of read, learning with their ears instead of their eyes. Or letting kids with attention issues have breaks. Kids can get these accommodations now, but often the stigma of having an LD/ADHD can prevent them from seeking help or access the accommodations that are their legal rights. We should make sure no kid feels ashamed to ask for what they need—and what better way to not feel ashamed than to know you’re talking to someone who really gets it?
When we don’t share, when we keep silent, we lose kids. Kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities drop out of high school at more than double the rate of students in the general population. Individuals with learning disabilities appear in the U.S. prison population at four times the rate they are found in the general public.
It’s not a small number of kids. Learning disabilities affect as many as 20% of our students. According to the Department of Education, 2.5 million kids have been identified with specific learning disabilities; as many as 6 million with ADHD. Still more have not been identified—and so many don’t get the attention they need. Unless we help them, the national cost in human potential and hard dollars will be tremendous.
That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the work we do at Eye to Eye. We encourage everyone to share his or her story. We know that in some environments, revealing takes real courage. But sharing creates a connection. Connection creates community. And a community sparks culture change and a movement.
So, this LD Awareness Month, share your story or the story of someone you love. I started by talking with Secretary Duncan. One month before he made his statement about learning disabilities, two Eye to Eye mentors from the University of Illinois, represented the LD/ADHD community met with Secretary Duncan on his Back-to-School Bus Tour. They told him about the challenges they and the LD/ADHD community faced and what they hoped to do in their lives. They shared. He listened—and committed to change.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Career preparation is critically important for all young people, but especially for young people with disabilities. In order to be prepared to enter the workforce, young people with disabilities need to gain as many real work experiences as they can, as early as they can. This year the Youth Transitions Collaborative has developed a video-based campaign “Work Early, Work Often” that highlights the importance of work and work-based experiences in an individual’s transition to adulthood, particularly for young adults with disabilities. This message isn’t just important for the young person with a disability—it’s equally important for their family members and caregivers, and future employers.
The campaign consists of three storylines, each focusing on a different subject and narrative, told from the perspectives of key audiences that are part of the transition journey. Hear from a young professional about how her early work experiences helped lead to long-term success. Listen to employers discuss how exposing young adults with disabilities to real work experiences can help to meet the needs of a business and improve their bottom line. Or watch a powerful story unfold as a mother describes “letting go” when her son entered the world of work.
To learn more about the “Work Early, Work Often” campaign, you can visit www.thenytc.org or watch the videos individually or as a series on YouTube.
Guest Author: McKenzie Erickson, Marketing Coordinator at Benetech
Dyslexia. It’s a word I’ve heard since the third grade. It was the explanation for why I couldn’t read, why I had to cheat on my weekly spelling tests, and why I felt different. I’ve since come to realize there is more to dyslexia than its disadvantages.
When I was in school, I put a significant amount of energy into keeping my dyslexia a secret. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was in special education, or that I had a tutor for nine years, or that my parents read my advanced placement (AP) textbooks to me. I worked hard to make sure I had the perfect grades and the perfect resume to get into the perfect college. I overcompensated by working three times as hard as my peers. I was student body president in my senior year while being involved in multiple extra curricular activities. I needed to make sure people saw me as smart and competent.
After graduating high school and taking some time to reflect on what I really needed, I made the decision to attend Landmark College. It was there, among hundreds of other students with learning disabilities and attention issues that I began to define who I am. I found helpful resources like the National Center for Learning Disabilities and learned more about disability laws and my right to accommodations. I developed skills to advocate for what I need to be successful. Learning differently is what all students at Landmark College have in common. It was time to discover who I am beyond my dyslexia.
My associates’ degree at Landmark College prepared me to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I began to focus on knowing and understanding exactly what I have to offer and what energizes me. I opened myself to the possibility that my strengths were not in spite of my dyslexia, but because of it. I honed my skills by studying branding, creative and critical thinking, and human centered design. As a capstone I interned at Benetech.
I just celebrated my three-year anniversary at Benetech. I’m proud to put my design and marketing degree to use contributing to Bookshare, a global literacy initiative of Benetech. Bookshare is an online library of over 350,000 accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities like dyslexia. By continuing to develop my strengths and identifying ways to compensate for my challenges I’m crafting my ideal career.
This LD Awareness Month, I encourage all teachers to consider which of their students might have dyslexia. Notice how bright they are and how hard they are working. Help them to identify and celebrate their interests and strengths. Understand that these students are constantly confronting their major weaknesses—reading and writing. And thank you in advance for seeking out the necessary professional development to provide effective evidence-based interventions.
For parents of children who are struggling with dyslexia or other learning and attention issues, I want you to know that there are resources and communities of support available to you. Whether in your local community or on Web sites like Understood.org, there are experts who can provide information to help you make decisions and navigate this journey, and there other parents who understand the challenges you face and will share their stories.
I urge all students with learning disabilities to pursue activities that you enjoy. Believe in your ability to learn. Use your voice to increase awareness and understanding of the whole of dyslexia. Help to shift the paradigm from disadvantages to advantages. Find your strength and focus on making it into your super-power.
Author’s Note: In case you’re wondering… yes, it took me more time than you can imagine to write this blog post. But some things are just worth it!