Advocacy: The Foundation for My Success

Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Carla Priest

Carla Priest

Carly Priest is a rising senior at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she studies history and English. In her free time she dives for the Swimming and Diving Team, works in a local kindergarten, and writes for the school newspaper. Carly attends the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) conference as a representative for Eye to Eye, where she has served as a mentor, intern, camp counselor and Diplomat. 


Everyone has a different path to figuring out who they are. My own journey is far from over!  As a senior in college, I continue to learn about myself every day, but the ability to advocate for the resources I need continues to make all the difference. I share my story as a different learner to remind others who struggle with learning and attention issues, as I do, that success is not only possible, but critical. In learning differently, we have something unique and important to offer the world.

From kindergarten through eighth grade, I was seen as the “wacky” kid. Even though I was the “wacky” kid who had difficulty with spelling and a hard time following sequential instructions, no one suspected a learning disability because I loved to learn. Even with my love for learning, thinking back on my early education, I vividly recall feeling hopeless in the classroom. I had no words to communicate how I struggled!

My elementary school was a small public charter school that centered on a nature-based education model. The school’s kinesthetic and experiential approach to education allowed me to learn with my body, oftentimes outdoors. This emphasis on learning in motion, along with alternative instructional methods, ultimately mitigated my learning challenges enough to get by until high school.

Although mostly unnoticed through elementary school, my learning differences became apparent when I transitioned into a traditional high school. Within the first few months, my English teacher, sensing something was wrong, suggested we look deeper into what was going on. Evaluations revealed my visual processing disorder as well as attention deficit. It was good to finally have a diagnosis, but as I quickly realized, finally having a “name” for the difficulties I had always experienced was only the first step in the ongoing journey. Even though my diagnosis meant I suddenly received several types of accommodations, I still didn’t understand why I had accommodations, how they would help me, or when I should use them. I still needed to figure out what kind of tools would allow me to succeed.

Things dramatically changed for me in high school once I became involved in mentoring a younger student through Eye to Eye. Eye to Eye is a nonprofit, art-based mentoring program for students with learning and attention issues. Each art project focuses on developing students’ self-esteem, self-advocacy skills, and helping them understand how they learn and what they need to succeed.

More than anything, mentoring with Eye to Eye taught me so much more about myself. I learned that different accommodations could be helpful in different situations. I started to understand that extended time on tests was important, but in my case, it was far more important to have a testing environment with limited distractions. I looked for strong allies at school and found them. When I realized I processed information much better if my body was in motion, a psychology teacher encouraged me to walk around the back of the classroom during lectures, and would toss me baseballs to keep me focused and engaged in class. With these newfound allies, I was able to explore new ways of learning. With newfound confidence, I embraced my capacity to think differently, and began to explain to others what my “labels” meant. If I could self-advocate, success in college would not only be possible, but (as my allies assured me) inevitable.

Research shows that self-awareness and self-understanding are keys to success for young adults with learning and attention issues. A Student Voices study by the National Center for Learning Disabilities shows that young adults with learning and attention issues who are successful after high school have three things in common: a supportive home life, a strong sense of self-confidence, and a strong connection to friends and community. My community of support and allies, including my family, Eye to Eye, and my teachers, helped me develop and grow in these areas.

Now that I am in college, advocating for myself has become more important than ever. I speak to each professor about which accommodations I need and when I’ll need them. I am able to customize learning in a way that works for me. In addition to college, I have even had opportunities get involved in advocacy on a larger scale through an internship with the U.S. Department of Education as well as working with the National Center for Learning Disabilities in the areas of self-advocacy and personalized learning.

As I began to understand how I learned differently and developed the ability to communicate those differences to others, I laid a foundation for my future. Every learner should have the same opportunity to understand how they learn differently and embrace those differences. If we do not help our students access the resources they need, we will lose out on the intelligence, creativity, and passion of so many students with learning and attention issues who fail to see their future as one full of opportunities for success.


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.

Carla Priest
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A student at College of the Holy Cross and a Diplomat with Eye to Eye

A Teacher’s Perspective on Advancing Dyslexic Education

Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Alison Pankowski

Alison Pankowski

Alison Pankowski currently trains teachers in her New Jersey district in the Wilson Reading System and is an International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Certified Dyslexia Therapist. She is the current Vice President of the New Jersey branch of the IDA.  Mrs. Pankowski was a contributing member to the New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook, released in September 2017.


As a dyslexia specialist in my school district, I build the knowledge base of my colleagues regarding early identification, structured literacy intervention and essential accommodations for students with dyslexia.

I explain, often, that:

  • “Yes, you can identify students at risk for dyslexia as early as five years old.”
  • “Yes, teachers should provide instruction in phonemic awareness in second grade to continue to build reading skills.”
  • “No, using audiobooks is not a crutch; it provides access to grade-level text for struggling readers and levels the playing field.”

While it is true that legislative efforts in my home state of New Jersey have helped to bring these types of conversations to the local school level, there is still much work to be done to ensure that our state dyslexia laws, enacted in 2013 and 2014, are implemented effectively.

There are still many persistent misconceptions about dyslexia, and much of the implementation gap exists because professionals cannot act upon what they do not know or understand.

The truth is higher education often does not include coursework on dyslexia in teacher preparation programs, so local education agencies must either figure out how to build capacity or wait until guidance is provided.

But where would this guidance come from?

In New Jersey, I was invited to join a group of individuals tasked with creating dyslexia guidance. This group consisted of practitioners with expert knowledge in the field of dyslexia, including learning disabilities teacher consultants, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, higher education professors, assistive technology experts, parents and N.J. Department of Education representatives.

New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook

New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook

We worked together for more than 19 months to create the “New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook” with the intent to:

  • Build an understanding of dyslexia and related difficulties with written language;
  • Demonstrate how to identify and remediate students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties; and
  • Inform both educators and families in best practices to support students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.

We met monthly to discuss how to best provide this understanding and specialized knowledge without overwhelming or alienating educators and families.

Our meetings involved thoughtful, often passionate conversations about what we had experienced or had heard from others around the state; both positive and negative, regarding how schools had chosen to implement the laws passed by the state.

Usually these discussions resulted in written revisions to chapters drafted on early screening, intervention, assessment, accommodations and assistive technology. These discussions then led to more discussions and more revisions!

As committee members with experience in the field, we met with educators and families across the state throughout the process to learn more about what guidance they were seeking and to assure them that it would be coming soon. We worked diligently to craft a resource that would provide best practices to meet the needs of their struggling readers.

The N.J. Department of Education released “The New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook: A Guide to Early Literacy Development & Reading Struggles” Sept. 25, 2017—just in time for Dyslexia Awareness Month in October.

My hope is that this handbook will be a giant step forward in closing the gap between the research on dyslexia and the implementation of best practices in the school and classroom.


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.

Alison Pankowski
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Alison Pankowski is an International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Certified Dyslexia Therapist and is the current Vice President of the New Jersey branch of the IDA.

How Having ADHD Made Me a Better Advocate for My Daughters

Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Jessica-Gordon

Jessica Gordon

A guest blog by Jessica Gordon, a parent of children with learning and attention issues and Regional Manager for Understood at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.


“She is smart, but she just needs to apply herself.”

If you looked back at my report cards in elementary school, every single one would say that. Even after recognizing that I struggled to pay attention, my family assured me that I didn’t have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because I was able to watch television for long periods of time.

My experience isn’t as unique as I would hope. In fact, according to The State of Learning Disabilities report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 78% of parents believe that any child can do well in school if he or she just tries hard enough. And 33% of educators believe that sometimes what people call a learning or attention issue is really just laziness.

For me—and probably for many kids struggling in school—that wasn’t the case. I was applying myself and doing the best I could, but I wasn’t able to focus or pay attention. My teachers were frustrated that I would score in the 90th percentile on standardized tests but fail to turn in spelling tests and math worksheets. Through trial and error, I found strategies to keep myself organized in school. But by the time I went to college, I sought an evaluation and was told that I do, in fact, have ADHD.

Thanks to advances in research and more experts exploring these issues, our understanding of ADHD has grown tremendously over the past few decades. According to Understood.org, girls are not identified with ADHD as often as boys, and they are often identified much later. The signs can look significantly different in girls and boys. For example, girls may not display the behavior challenges that boys do and might, instead, be chatty, disorganized, or emotional. And, much like me, because girls work hard to compensate for their challenges, it can often be overlooked.

Now, as a mother of three girls, nothing is more important to me than knowing my children’s strengths and challenges and advocating for what they need. When my oldest daughter was in second grade, she began to exhibit the same signs I did at that age. Recognizing those familiar signs, I knew I had to take action. I wanted her to have the same understanding of herself it took me decades to develop.

We went through with an evaluation, and my oldest daughter was diagnosed with ADHD—just like me, but much sooner. My middle daughter was also diagnosed when she reached second grade. And my youngest, who struggles with reading and writing as well as attention, is in the process of being evaluated right now.

When I was younger, I became an advocate for myself only after the system failed to recognize my struggles. But I don’t want that to happen to my children. Instead of making assumptions about what their future might look like with learning and attention issues, I make a point to consider their strengths, their interests, and their ideas about themselves. I want to ensure that my children—and all children—are on a path to understanding themselves and harnessing their strengths and talents.

Having ADHD myself and raising three children with ADHD is a unique challenge, and one I think many parents can relate to when learning and attention issues run in the family. But it is true that parents are their child’s best advocate. When your instincts tell you that something is going on under the surface, it’s important to trust that. It’s critical to seek out professionals who will listen and help you support your child in the way you know you need to.

I often wonder how different my life would have been if my parents and teachers had recognized my ADHD earlier and provided the accommodation and supports I needed all those years ago. Fortunately, my children won’t have to wonder about that. And I hope other parents trust their instincts, listen to their children, and follow a path that gets them and their child the supports they need.


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.

Jessica Gordon
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Regional Manager for Understood, National Center for Learning Disabilities

Understanding Teachers Make “All the Difference” for a High School Student with Dyslexia

Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Carter Grace Duncan

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:

  1. Extra time
    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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Technology
    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.
  5. Teacher notes
    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.
  6. 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.


Carter Grace Duncan
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A freshman in a Northern Virginia public high school and a youth advocate for Decoding Dyslexia Virginia

Adventures with Lucas

An OSERS Guest Blog post by Kristina Hartsell, a military spouse who has a son with a diagnosis of ADHD.


The Hartsell Family at Disneyland with Mickey Mouse.

The Hartsell Family at Disneyland

I am married to an amazing Army man and together, we have an 8-year-old son named Lucas. He is our miracle child who happens to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Asthma, and sensory processing disorder. Every day is an adventure with him.

Having a child with ADHD, I learned a few things about myself and the world around me. First, I’ve learned that I have cat-like reflexes. I discovered this talent at one of my son’s doctor appointments. For some children, being cooped up in a room for a few minutes is fine, but for my son, it is an opportunity! An opportunity to touch everything he can, while also building his gymnastic skills. I use my cat-like reflexes to support his exploration and movement while also assuring his safety.

I’ve also learned how to multitask and make it seem effortless. I can carry on a conversation on three different topics in the mystifying world of video games, flipping back and forth multiple times within five minutes, while simultaneously cooking dinner and cleaning up toys. I must say that I am very proud of this talent—I know that I share it with many parents, but it is often more finely developed in parents of kids with ADHD! You will often hear me tell my son it’s my “superpower.”

Last, I have learned to be what he and I call a “defender of all things good and evil.” By that, we mean that sometimes we have to play the role of the “bad” guy for the greater good. I often have to decide what kind of defender I will be when meeting those who don’t understand my son’s behavior. While their words and attitudes can sometimes sting, I can make a decision about how to respond or even to respond at all. I have come to realize over time that I understand my son and will always be his advocate. Advocating for his needs often means letting him be who he is, the energizer bunny our family loves.

Many parents of children with disabilities share my superpowers and have superpowers that are uniquely their own. We are part of a club that treats everyday as a new day to help our children grow and flourish in their unique way. Having a close network of family and friends who understand our family has been very helpful to us. I’ve also learned to communicate my challenges and joys with my husband. As a military spouse, this is often hard to do because of frequent deployments and travel, and the need to develop my own communication skills. Lastly, I have found other parents and other families just like me and my family, and being able to share with them our journey has provided us with a lot of support.

If you’re the parent of a child with disabilities, as you set forth on your own adventure with your energizer bunny, you might be surprised how many other families share your path, and how much you can grow together.

Raising Carly, My Child With A Learning Disability

A guest Blog post by Karen Laughlin, a parent educator at the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, the Parenting Training and Information (PTI) Center in North Carolina.


Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly

In hindsight, I may have been a bit over confident when my third child came along. After all, her older brother and sister were happy kids and great students. Yes, Carly was a quirky little girl and she seemed to need more “handling” than I was used to, but we always thought that was because she was our youngest. She was clearly smart, funny, and likeable…except when she wasn’t, but didn’t all kids have ups and downs? This changed abruptly when her third grade class was learning multiplication. While other kids were earning the cherry on top of the banana split on the bulletin board by mastering 9’s and 10’s, Carly couldn’t get past the 2’s and had only a scoop of vanilla ice cream in her bowl. No amount of drilling at home helped, and she came home crying about her almost empty bowl every night. I was at a loss—if working harder didn’t help, what else could we do?

Fast forwarding to the present, Carly is 19 and we’ve known since she was about nine that her brain works differently—she has been diagnosed with both a learning disability in math and ADHD. Over the last ten years, I’ve learned a lot about both of those conditions, about brains, executive functions, and the ups and downs of special education. This all helped me to understand how a learning disability affects much more than learning academic skills, and I’ve used this knowledge to help Carly understand herself and to explain her LD/ADHD to others.

My most important lessons have been lessons of the heart, maybe even of the soul. I’ve learned to dig deeper as a parent and find the patience and understanding that Carly needed so that home could be a safe space after a long, hard, and often discouraging day at school. I’ve learned that there is no “one size fits all” parenting style for kids like Carly, and that I needed to be flexible in my approach to her. I’ve learned that however confusing it is to raise a child who is uneven in her abilities, it is much more challenging and confusing to BE that child every day.

As Carly struggled with so many aspects of high school, I had to confront my own expectations for her future, and to accept that each child finds her own path, and her own sense of timing. There are many good paths, and I am a better person for learning this lesson.

When I asked Carly what I should include in this post, she didn’t hesitate to answer, “Tell them that their kids are trying, even when they wish the results were better.” Did I forget to mention that besides having trouble relating to numbers, my daughter is a compassionate, insightful, loyal, and articulate 19 year old?  These qualities, more than any academic strength, will bring her joy in life, and isn’t that what all parents want for their children?

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly
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A parent educator at the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, the Parenting Training and Information (PTI) Center in North Carolina.

“Acceptance & Achievement: Because of my Dyslexia – Not In Spite of It”

Guest Blog post by Caida Mendelsohn


Caida Mendelsohn

Caida Mendelsohn

In early elementary school, I was aware that I was different from my classmates. I would get pulled out of class to work with and reading specialist. I took longer to finish worksheets in math class. I would stumble over words and make more mistakes than my classmates when reading out loud.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My parents made the choice to move me to a local school that specialized in dyslexic remediation. This school would help build skills that I could use to be successful, even with dyslexia. The teachers there understood dyslexia and tailored their lessons to meet our needs.

I was no longer self-conscious when reading out loud and I no longer worried about how long it took me to finish a worksheet. All of the other kids in my class were dyslexic. For the first time, I didn’t feel different or weird.

When I went back to a general education classroom, I was given basic accommodations for my dyslexic and ADHD. In my 6th grade earth science class, I began to feel different from the rest of my classmates again.

Every night for homework, we had to read and take notes from our texted book. In reality, the reading was probably only 10 pages but it felt like 100 pages. It took me so long to do my homework every night. I would get frustrated and cry over my text book, then cry to my mom, and then cry over my textbook some more.

None of my friends in class seemed to have the same problems doing the reading and taking notes. Everyone else had organized notes with highlighter and bullet points just like the teacher taught us to do. My notes were messy and almost incoherent.

Then one night, while doing earth science homework, I had an aha-moment. I stopped taking notes on lined paper and started taking notes on printer paper. I started organizing my notes graphically and using colored pencils. When I began taking notes like this, homework became less hard and I started retaining and understanding more of what I was reading.

I realized that I think and learn differently than my peers because of my dyslexia. So why I was trying to study and learn in the same way they were? I needed to use my creativity and try a different ways of studying and figure out how best I learn.

As a junior in college, I still take notes this way.  Being able to think differently, be creative, and adapt is what has made me a successful student. And the challenges I’ve faced have helped me become the advocate I am today.

Having ADHD and a learning disability like dyslexia has been a challenge in some ways, and a great teacher in other ways. I have learned to accept myself and the way I learn. I have learned to speak up for what I need. And I have learned the importance of encouraging others to do the same.

On the nights I cried over my earth science textbook, I never imagined I’d be where I am now. I never imagined I’d be living in Washington, DC, or that I’d have two amazing internship opportunities—first with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and now with the U.S. Department of Education.

But anything is possible.

My experiences have inspired within me a desire to ensure equity in education for all students, including students with disabilities. I want to ensure they, too, have access to the same opportunities as other students. Because one thing I’ve learned is that what you are given in life – even dyslexia or ADHD—does not determine who you are. But what you do with that determines everything.


Caida Mendelsohn is a junior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is originally from Decatur Georgia. At Smith, Caida is majoring in Government and minoring in Education and Child Studies. Additionally, Caida is working towards the teaching certificate for elementary education. It was Caida’s personal struggle with her learning disability that first sparked her interest in education and disability rights and advocacy.

“From Hidden Potential to Harvard”

Guest Blog post by Laura A. Schifter


Laura A. Schifter and daughter Ellie

Laura A. Schifter and daughter Ellie

At age seven, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Right after receiving my diagnosis, my parents were told they should not expect much from me and that I would not be successful academically. This assumption came, not from knowing me, not from observing my ability to think, but rather from the simple fact that I had dyslexia, meaning I struggled to read words on a page.

Today, I have a doctorate and teach at Harvard. And many other students with dyslexia find success, too. So why are these assumptions so widespread and expectations so low?

Reading is often seen as the most critical foundational skill in education. Reading is not simply required in English classes, but in all academic classes. This is why it is easy to assume that if a child struggles with reading, they cannot be successful in school. Fortunately for me, my parents did not accept the professional’s assumption as fact.

Growing up, my parents ensured I got the access and support I needed to be successful. My mother allowed me to learn by going to museums or watching videos. I got access to audio books from Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic, and my sister even recorded homemade audio books for me.

However, sometimes these accommodations could not provide the just-in-time support I needed. That’s when I would piece together information from my peers and try to get by. At best, I was able to successfully fake that I had completed the reading. At worst, I would be exposed as not knowing an answer and humiliated.

Even though I had some teachers who looked at me and only saw my barrier with reading, I also encountered many teachers who challenged assumptions and saw my potential. I had an English teacher who met with me before class to discuss the readings; a chemistry teacher who provided additional scaffolding with writing conclusions; and a history teacher who encouraged me to take the Advanced Placement (AP) exam even after I was rejected from the AP class because of concerns that the reading would be too challenging for me.  The exceptional teachers I encountered never lowered expectations for my success, but rather found ways to support me in meeting the expectations.

My experiences, with supportive parents and teachers, are common to many successful students with learning and attention issues and even students with disabilities more broadly. However, given the large achievement gaps for students with learning disabilities, these positive and supportive experiences are not common enough.

In schooling, we place a high value on reading because reading is an effective way to represent content. But it does not need to be the only way. In fact, advances in technology can make representing information in multiple ways easy.

For instance, in my graduate work, I learned about the screen reader embedded in my computer. This tool allows me to have immediate read-aloud support for any accessible digital text. I now use it all the time from reading journal articles to reading emails to proofreading my own work. There are also many other types of technology and accommodations that can make a difference for students with learning disabilities.

In order to fully leverage technology as a tool to help struggling learners, teachers need to not only learn how to use the technology, but also commit to making their lessons accessible to all learners. This commitment can only be successful if we shift our thinking. We must think not about the limitations of the child, but about the limitations in the curriculum.

This shift will change our assumptions and enable us to see past the child’s barrier to reveal the child’s potential. It will help so many more students like me succeed.


Laura A. Schifter, Ed.D., is a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, coauthor of How Did You Get Here: Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard, and a member of the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ Professional Advisory Board.

Previously, Schifter served in Washington, D.C., as a senior education and disability advisor for Rep. George Miller (D-CA) on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Schifter earned an Ed.D. in education policy, leadership and instructional practice and an Ed.M. in mind, brain and education from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has a B.A. in American studies from Amherst College. Schifter was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was 7.

LD/ADHD Proud to Be:
Eye to Eye’s Different Thinkers

Eye to Eye's "Different Thinkers" celebrating LS/ADHD Awareness Month

As the month of October and Learning Disabilities / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (LD / ADHD) Awareness Month draws to a close, I have been thinking a lot about how our teams here at OSERS are strengthened by people who have different skills, different knowledge, and different approaches to problems. We don’t all think alike which brings strength to our work. I’d like to introduce some amazing students with LD / ADHD who think differently and bring strength to our society.

Recently, David Flink, Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, authored a guest blog on the OSERS blog spot. In his post, David emphasized the importance that awareness plays in breaking stigma and building understanding around diverse learning needs. David frames learning disabilities and LD / ADHD awareness in the following terms, “We like to think, ‘It’s not a learning disability, it’s this ability to think differently.’” In his post, David talked about his own 5th grade reading struggles. Over the years, stories from his teachers and others who had LD and ADHD helped him succeed. He knew youth with learning disabilities needed hope, and they needed strategies for success. They needed mentors.

David founded Eye to Eye as a national mentoring organization run by people with LD / ADHD for people with LD / ADHD. The organization recently launched a National Share-Ability Campaign, which highlights the authentic experiences of students with LD / ADHD. If you’ve been in Times Square lately, you might have seen a giant screen “spectacular” sharing a story. Or maybe you know a student who has had a quiet, personal, one-on-one conversation: many have happened in classrooms and homes across the country.

As part of their Share-Ability Campaign, Eye to Eye asked their college-aged mentors across the country, “What would you like to share about your abilities as a different thinker?” OSERS features those kids’ inspirational answers here—positive messages by self-advocates who wanted to help others by telling their own story.

We welcome you to read their experiences and invite you to share your own.

 

 


Chelsea Bennett, Knox CollegeChelsea Bennett, Knox College

As a different thinker, I have been able to learn more about myself. Not only have I learned how to navigate my ADHD and explore how I learn best, I have also been able to learn great things about myself. My ADHD may be a challenge, but it has also taught me to enjoy the quirky, hyper, fun-loving person that I am because that is what makes me unique!


Katy Demko, University of PittsburghKaty Demko, University of Pittsburgh

Some people think my ADHD should hold me back, but I think it pushes me even more! It took me a while to figure out how I learn and it was a lot of trial and error. But I have come to realize that it is not a learning disability—I just learn differently.


Josh Dishman, Radford UniversityJosh Dishman, Radford University

My disabilities actually give me strength to work even harder towards a goal. Growing up, I was labeled as the wild, energetic kid who could never pay attention in class, which led many to believe that I was an idiot. As I grew up, I learned that having ADHD didn’t make me stupid, it just meant I had to work a little harder. I may have not been attentive enough to read a book, but if I listened to the book on audio, I was able to lead the class discussion on the novel.


Chris Gorman, Hobart and William Smith CollegesChris Gorman, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

I think that having ADHD allows me to approach problems differently. While most people would look to reach point D by going from A to B to C and then D, I always bounce around the problem. This lets me approach problems from a different angle and look at something in a totally different light than most people would.


Caroline Lee, Boston CollegeCaroline Lee, Boston College

As a different thinker, I can get lost on the way to class, forget where I put my textbook, and mix up my 10 AM class with my 12 PM class. But I still know that I have a valuable mind that can learn and approach things in interesting and meaningful ways.


Luz Madrigal, UC IrvineLuz Madrigal, UC Irvine

My ADHD brain is like a computer with a lot of different windows open all at once, and they are all functioning at the same time. I am a bit slow at learning new things just because I pay attention to too many details, but once I learn the task at hand, I tend to be above average in speed at that same job that took me longer to learn. I make sure I slowly learn everything, and once I do, WAM…I am extra efficient because I am a great multi-tasker! ADHD is pretty cool if you ask me.


Brianna Malin, University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignBrianna Malin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I am a different thinker and I am very proud of it. Living with an LD and ADHD has helped me gain confidence and motivation to succeed in anything I do. I have determination, drive, and dedication to always do my best to reach my goals. This has also helped me to be resilient in the face of any obstacle. I am very grateful to be different and to think different because it makes me, me!


Georgia Mavrogeorgis, SUNY BuffaloGeorgia Mavrogeorgis, SUNY Buffalo

My learning disabilities provide me with the gift of being able to understand and see the world from a different perspective.
I’m more open-minded and accepting of individuals and their differences.


Becca O’Hea, ECUBecca O’Hea, East Carolina University

Having dyslexia has given me immense patience in having to spend extra hours completing reading assignments, and taught me to be a strong listener to compensate for being a slow reader and writer. I make it a point to tell others about my difference and how it has help me in furthering my career as a student and as a future school psychologist.


Brandon Odenheimer, University of DenverBrandon Odenheimer, University of Denver

I have been classified as LD and ADHD since 1st grade. Now I’m in my senior year of college, and I have been able to use my way of learning to succeed in my studies all the way. The ability to share my experiences with others is very rewarding.


Arthi Selvan, Temple UniversityArthi Selvan, Temple University

I’ve struggled a lot with being a different thinker, especially as a science major. To me, being a STEM major means you must be the type A personality: organized, efficient, a linear thinker, competitive. However, my learning difference benefits me. I have the ability to see and approach problems differently than most STEM majors do. I sometimes feel like I have a secret super power because of my ability to think differently.


Sam Solomon, University of WyomingSam Solomon, University of Wyoming

Nobody ever told me bluntly, that I was doing it “wrong.” But after a lifetime of little corrections and criticisms about how you think and live, you start to hear it. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of self-love to truthfully tell yourself that your habits and flaws and quirks are wonderful. It isn’t about fixing yourself. You have to form an alliance with your learning style.

 


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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.

Raising Awareness on Specific Learning Disabilities

This blog was cross posted from HOMEROOM, the official ED.gov Blog, and  originally appeared on Medium.


Last year I learned about Jade, a dynamic 8th grader who struggled to learn to read when she was in elementary school.

In recalling her challenges, Jade described trouble recognizing letters and difficulty linking them together to form sounds. She just couldn’t read. The worst feeling in the world, Jade said, was starting to believe the names her classmates called her.

For a long time Jade kept her struggle to herself, feeling alone, and like she had to find her own way to deal and cope with this challenge. Fortunately, Jade’s family and teachers stepped in to help her get special education services. These services provided her with individualized strategies to help her read—strategies that she still uses today as she advances through middle school and sets her sights on high school and beyond.

We know that Jade is not alone. Approximately 2.5 million students receiving special education services in schools have learning disabilities, making it the largest disability population in our country. And, while research demonstrates that learners with disabilities who struggle in reading or math can most certainly succeed at rigorous, grade-level coursework with high-quality instruction and appropriate services and accommodations, too many young people don’t get the support they need to succeed. Sadly, and unnecessarily, students with learning disabilities lag far behind their peers in a host of academic indicators.

Too often, children with learning and attention issues are defined by their limitations rather than their strengths. Jade’s story shows us what is possible when educators and families work together to build on the strengths of a child while identifying and addressing their challenges.

By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.

That’s why I am proud to highlight October as the month of awareness for Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.

Today, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released guidance to state and local educational agencies. This guidance clarifies that students with specific learning disabilities—such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia—have unique educational needs. It further clarifies that there is nothing in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in a student’s evaluation, determination of eligibility for special education and related services, or in developing the student’s individualized education program (IEP).

It is our hope that this guidance will help families and educators work together on behalf of children. We acknowledge that there could be situations in which the child’s parents and the team of qualified professionals responsible for determining whether the child has a specific learning disability would find it helpful to include information about the specific condition (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia) in documenting how that condition relates to the child’s eligibility determination. Additionally, there could be situations where an IEP team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia).

Specifically, this guidance:

  • Clarifies that the list of conditions in the definition of “specific learning disability,” which includes dyslexia, is not an exhaustive list of conditions which may qualify a child as a student with a learning disability;
  • Reminds States of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA;
  • Encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.

This guidance can be found by visiting the Department of Education’s webpage.

The Department is committed to ensuring students with specific learning disabilities—such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia—receive a high-quality education. The month of October is as an opportunity to raise awareness about these critical issues. But we all must remember that helping students, like Jade, to thrive happens not just today, but every day.

Michael Yudin, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
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Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.