What does a Special Education teacher do on a weekend? Most of what I do isn’t important but here’s what happened last Saturday. Our new neighbors brought their fifth grade son, Matt, to our house. While Matt was downstairs, his mother told me that he had been recently diagnosed as having learning disabilities and that he would be receiving Special Education services. Jenny, his mother, said that she didn’t want him to have a “label” and that her husband didn’t want his son to be in special classes. Dinner could wait. I decided that this family needed to learn about learning disabilities.
First, I ran around the house and started collecting my learning disabilities paraphernalia. I showed them our book Smart on the Inside – A True Story About Succeeding in Spite of Learning Disabilities and told them how Eileen was relieved when she finally understood that her difficulties were caused by her learning disability. Then I showed them the list of “Famous People With Learning Disabilities” from our website. These people include Patricia Palocco, Stephen J. Cannell, Avi, Hans Christian Anderson, Nolan Ryan, Henry Winkler, Whoopi Goldberg, Anderson Cooper, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein. This was the first time that Jenny and her son had heard that these successful people had learning problems. They were amazed!
Next, I gave them copies of articles that explain learning disabilities and dyslexia. Someone who has a learning disability has average or above average intelligence and is not achieving up to their potential in reading, spelling, written expression, oral expression, or mathematics. I explained that I always taught my students that they had learning differences. It is not that they can’t learn, but that they learn things differently. These students may need to be taught using special methods and materials. Jenny said that Matt was going to be switched to a math class that was taught by a Special Education teacher who used alternative materials. Matt was apprehensive about going to a new class but I reassured both of them that this specialized math class would probably be very beneficial to Matt.
After Matt left to join the men, Jenny told me that for years she and her husband had denied the fact that their son had problems. She blamed his teachers and was angry that her son was not getting enough help in school. Her husband didn’t believe that Matt had real difficulties and kept telling him to work harder. At one point they were ready to move since they thought that he would be fine in another school. Then she talked about the guilt she felt because she thought that it must be her fault. I assured her that her feelings of denial, flight, blame, anger, and so forth are quite typical. Parents face a whole range of emotions before they can deal with the truth that they have a child who has special needs. There is no set order to those feelings. Many parents start with denial and most often they end with acceptance and hope. Jenny was flabbergasted and said, “I thought that I was the only one! I’m so glad to know that other parents have similar feelings.”
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When it was time for them to leave, both Jenny and Matt thanked me for sharing the information with them. Matt was clutching the list of successful people in his hand since he planned to show it to his teacher on Monday. Just like Eileen, he was pleased to discover that intelligent and talented people had learning challenges.
Jenny promised that she would share what she had learned with her husband and Matt’s older sister. It is so important that all the members in a family understand that their son or daughter or brother or sister or grandchild is “smart on the inside” and can succeed in spite of learning disabilities.