In the months just before I began to write the book Learning in Spite of Labels, I heard five different speakers on the subject of learning disabilities. They defined many words, discussed much theory and gave many interpretations of the law.
Practical information or teaching techniques that might work with these unique children were minimal. I decided to write a book to help meet the needs of children who struggle with learning no matter what label someone is trying to put on them. It may appear on the surface that they are failing to learn. In reality, they are learning to fail!
Failure-oriented is the term I came up with many years ago. Don’t kid yourself into believing that these children sit, unsuccessful, in the classrooms of our country learning nothing at all. Everyone learns something every day. They may learn to expect failure. They may learn to stop trying. They may learn to find success in getting into trouble. One thing is sure. They are learning.
I have been teaching children with learning disabilities for more than twenty-five years. When I started, the field was brand new. There were neither experts nor answers. There was no one to go to, no curriculum that worked for me, no help to be found. I Scrounged, adapted, and created. I tried new techniques, new approaches, new materials, and new ways of thinking about these children.
Over the years, the system changed labels, recommendations, and regulations. Gradually “experts” appeared who had studied statistics and books and someone else’s studies. All the while, I kept plugging away day after day and year after year. I found things that worked with some of the children and a few things that seemed to benefit all the children. My goal, as I write and speak, is to increase your success through proven insights and techniques
I am a Christian. I believe that all our actions affect our relationship with God. If we choose to act according to His Word and His Way, we please Him. If we choose to go our own way, we will struggle with everything and everyone.
Most of the children I worked with over the years were boys By the last year I taught, however, my class was almost evenly divided between boys and girls. As I pondered this I could come up with only one thing that had changed. Children were now being herded into formal group learning situations at younger and younger ages. Most boys develop readiness for academic learning later than girls.
When I began teaching, formal education began at age five and many boys were not developmentally ready for formal learning or for intense visual and visual-motor work. Twenty-five years later, most children are now in a day-care situation where reading and writing are started with three and four-year-olds. A few are ready. Many are not, especially among the boys. As the age for formal education dropped, more and more girls were identified as “learning disabled.”
I don’t like the term learning disabled. Challenged is more appropriate, but whatever term you use, it fits us all! I am disabled when it comes to trying to understand what my husband says about how something works. I don’t even care. I just want it to work! He is disabled when it comes to finding things and understanding spatial concepts. Let’s face it, we are all disabled!
The system, in order to provide additional services, puts labels on many children. They may be identified as learning disabled, mentally retarded, autistic, emotionally disturbed, slow learner, ADD and on and on. But the system is not the only one to label. Parents do it all the time. “She’s the smart one”. “He’s just lazy.” “What’s wrong with you?”
I believe we have created many of the problems faced by many learning disabled children by forcing them into structured, fine-motor, and close-up vision tasks which involve symbols and abstract concepts before they are developmentally ready. This is further complicated by the tension and pressure to succeed and the frustration and failure experienced by the many children who truly try to do what they are not yet capable of doing.
At times we all find ourselves bent beneath a load that seems too much to bear. We have more questions than answers…more problems than successes. Realize the children with learning difficulties feel that way most of the time. They notice others who understand much faster and verbalize their responses more clearly. Others get more praise and approval from the adults in their lives. And they don’t understand. They know only that they want desperately to be like their more successful friends, but don’t know how.
No matter what labels have been put on your child, he was created to learn. Let’s concentrate on our ables, not our labels!
Let’s explore some ways to help!
Joyce Herzog is a Christian educator, author, consultant and speaker with over 25 years experience teaching the learning disabled. She has been consulting with homeschooling families since 1993. Her book, Learning in Spite of Labels is available through her web site.