One of the problems is that these disabilities are "invisible". Just because the student looks and acts like a typical child or is quirky, many educators feel that they can learn just as a typical child learns. Usually the child knows that from early on, they are not learning as their same age peers and start to feel inadequate. Even the parents don't know what can be done and sometimes feel defeated in the challenge to help their children. These precious students slip through the system or do enough just to pass when they are able to do so much more. They bide their time until they can drop out of high school and never think that college is an option. I'm sure that you all know some of these children and probably didn't know how to work with them because they have little to no motivation and have a defeatist attitude.
Each of you as educators, educational technology specialists, therapists, and service providers will work with students who experience challenges on a daily basis in school. Studies are showing that 15 percent of all students in the general education classroom have some type of learning disability, either diagnosed or undiagnosed. With the prevalence in autism (now 1 out of 88 children), you will deal with learning disabilities , problems with writing, sensory processing issues, organization problems, and many more problems that can be helped with various forms of assistive technology. Teaching degrees for general education teachers usually don’t require more and one or two classes on working with students with disabilities so you need to take this on yourselves and become educated in what can help a child with a learning disability experience academic success.
Just consider some of the students that you have taught in the past. Some students are able to retain any information, some hardly study to get good grades, but we have all had students that just needed a little more. Maybe it was a little extra time reading, help with math, or big task broken into smaller ones to make a project easier to understand and complete. I work with students who might be disabled, but all students have strengths and we can help them develop those strengths and overcome the deficits by showing them strategies or tools that are available in most schools. Sometimes a tool like a text-to-speech device can make a difference in a student receiving a "C" or an "A" in a class. We never want to see our students fail...it hurts them and it hurts us too. We can level the playing field for all students but we need to be open to learning about what's out there for them.
My own child wasn’t diagnosed with Dyslexia until high school. All I remember is the struggling and suffering that she experienced on a daily basis because she felt “different” than her peers and felt that she was “stupid” even though we all knew that she was extremely intelligent. It took her four times as long to read a chapter than her typical peers and she had to use assistive technology tools to help her organize her thoughts and to keep her mind straight on what she was doing. Without intervention, she probably wouldn’t have made it through high school, but now she’s in college for nursing and doing well. She will never be an “A” student, but this is a person that will be extremely knowledgeable in her profession, because she has worked so hard all of her life and will continue to do so!
So when you have those students that are always in the back of the class and don’t participate much or act out so they can escape collaborating with their peers, please realize that those are the ones that need help. In this blog, you will learn how to help these students in such a positive way. We will talk about what you already have available, such as Microsoft Accessibility Options, and I will also write about various low cost, low tech resources that are available for your students. I will share handouts of workshops that I’ve conducted and I will answer questions about specific ways to help your students.
One student who I taught and who I will never forget was absolutely brilliant. He couldn’t write because he was dyslexic but he could draw beautifully and orally give me the answers to most problems. He was extremely creative and I knew that he could go far in life, if just I could reach him. I knew this child would end up quitting school when he became of age because he had always felt so inadequate in the educational setting. I was at the end of my rope and knew that I had to help him. I started working on a speech recognition program (Microsoft Speech Recognition) which is a word transcription program and he was able to write anything using his voice. That really started helping him and he actually started feeling some success. He loved comic books, even though he was not able to read them, so he started creating his own using this software and adding pictures to the text. It was amazing difference and his parents were so thrilled that we had found a tool that actually worked for him. Then after he was experiencing success with the speech recognition program, we then started working on a word prediction program that would give him a word bank while he was typing. Well, he went from writing a three word sentence to eventually writing a complete sentence that was meaningful and correct grammatically. He then went on to write paragraphs and complete papers. This was a game changer for this student who had enough success that he went on to a technical college and did very well.
So please consider all of your students, then focus in on the ones that you know are struggling in areas. You can help empower them to use assistive technology so they can be successful in school and then go on to be a productive citizen in our society. You, my fellow educators are already making the world a better place. What I am asking you all to do now is to learn what tools are available to make a struggling student’s world a better place too. I would love to help you with that and will welcome any questions or concerns you might have. Looking forward to you sharing resources and tips for working in a ‘regular’ classroom to level the playing field.