It’s Time to Change the Future for Students
with Learning and Attention Challenges
“We need to make current choices with an eye on the future.” Barack Obama
President Obama, in a recent speech on the economy, said that by 2020, the U.S. will once again have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world.
Here is a key question:
How many of those college grads will be students who have struggled their way through school because of dyslexia, attention deficits, and other learning challenges?
Casey is a bright 17 year old senior in high school. His friends are all talking about where they’re going to college next year. Casey stays quiet as usual. His grades aren’t nearly good enough to get into college, and why would he want to anyway? School has been a nightmare for him. He works hours and hours more than anyone else and in spite of special help at school, which is pretty embarrassing in itself, and years of tutoring, he’s still barely going to graduate.
Casey always wanted to be a veterinarian, but that takes far too much schooling. He knows he’d never make it. So what’s he going to do when he gets out of high school? He has no idea. Who will hire him?
Casey is bright and capable with dreams like any other high school senior, but he doesn’t feel very smart, and can’t image how he could ever pursue his dreams. He doesn’t see how he could ever be a part of that “highest percentage of college graduates.” Even though he has a special gift for working with animals, being a vet feels far beyond his grasp. He’s resigned himself to settling for something less.
Approximately 14.9 million children in school today are struggling to learn in spite of good intelligence. These children may receive help through special programs at school or tutoring outside of school, but in most cases, the help involves support and accommodations to get them through their homework and classes.
Very rarely does the help that children receive actually focus on solving the learning problems permanently and completely so that they don’t spend their school days frustrated and embarrassed over their underachievement.
What happens to these children when they leave high school? What kinds of choices do they believe that they have if school has always been a struggle and they’ve always had to have help to make it through?
Most learning and attention challenges, including diagnosed learning disabilities and dyslexia do not have to be permanent. There’s no magic pill and its not a quick fix, but through specific and intensive cognitive training, the brain can learn more efficient ways of processing information. We’ve seen this in thousands of cases over the past 25 years and current brain research validates the brain’s remarkable ability to change through training
It’s time we quit accommodating, or helping people get around their learning problems and do something to permanently help these bright, talented, misunderstood, and frustrated learners to reach their potential and have the futures that they dream of! Without good learning skills and the supporting education, we are dumping 18 and 19 years olds into the work force every year without the skills to find fulfilling jobs that will support themselves and their families.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, people without a college degree are twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a college degree and those without a high school diploma are three times more likely to be unemployed. These are young adults with all kinds of potential whose talents and abilities are being lost to society because their learning differences have put up roadblocks to their future. We all lose in this scenario.
Parents contact our learning center for help because their children are having problems with reading, math, or some other academic area in school. We explore with parents what the academic problem looks like at school or when the child is doing homework. This provides important insight into what might be causing the problem. But the key piece of the puzzle is to understand what is happening underneath the obvious academic struggle and poor grades.
We look at learning as a continuum with academic skills at the top of the continuum being supported by everything that comes earlier. Here is the how the continuum builds:
Below is a brief explanation of the first three levels of the continuum and a few of the symptoms parents might notice if their child has challenges at that level:
Developmental Learning Skills: These are basic visual and motor skills that help children develop a sense of self, internal organization, and body and attention awareness and control. Challenges in this area might show up as follows:
- Poor posture
- Awkward or uncoordinated
- Fatigue, low stamina
- Laying on desk
- Confusion with directions, spatial orientation, letter reversals
Processing Skills: These are skills such as attention, memory, auditory and visual processing (how we think about and understand things that we see or hear), processing speed, language comprehension, and phonemic awareness (the thinking process critical to reading that supports learning and using phonics). Problems in this area will show up as:
- Trouble sounding out words
- Trouble memorizing spelling words or math facts
- Can read but can’t remember or understand what was read
- Get very tired when listening
- Miss information when listening
- Trouble understanding visual organization in math, charts, etc.
- Can learn words for spelling test but can’t remember them next week
- Poor attention
- Can do the work but can’t “get it together” to get the work done and turned in
- Slow work / working too hard or too long
Executive Function: This is our personal manager that guides and directs our attention and behavior. It helps us reason, problem solve, organize, and make decisions. Problems in this area may appear as follows:
- Poor time management
- Can’t organize materials
- Trouble reasoning
- Wait until the last minute to start a long term project
- Can’t plan and organize projects
- Lack tact
- Poor follow through
- Trouble getting started
If a 10 year old fourth grader is laboriously reading at a second grade level, something is wrong. More practice reading or someone sitting at his side helping him say the words is not going to fix this problem
Solving the reading problem first requires retraining the brain to learn more easily and efficiently. To do this, we must look at what underlying skills on the learning skills continuum are not supporting the learner well enough. It is only by developing these areas and then remediating the basic academic skills that students can become the truly independent and comfortable learners they can and should be.