Explaining Learning Disabilities to Children

I’m often asked how to talk to children about their learning profile. When kids get diagnosed with a learning disability as a result of a good evaluation, parents often struggle with what to say.

In my latest children’s book, “A Light Within My Dyslexia” I end with an afterword that speaks directly to them.

Here’s the excerpt in what I title “Rockets and Rocks.”

Everyone has a learning profile. It means we all have some strengths. Some are obvious and some are hidden. Having a learning profile also means we have areas that don’t come easily for us, are hard. Put these two things together and call them strengths and weaknesses, or strengths and challenges. I like to think of them as rockets and rocks.

Rockets are the things that help you rise up. They’re parts of you that give you a feeling of strength. Rocks on the other hand, can get in the way. If your rocks, your struggles, are big enough especially when you’re going uphill, we sometimes feel defeated. Our rocks can seem like quite the obstacle. But they can be useful in the long run.

Everyone has some rockets and some rocks. For some kids a rocket might be that you’re good at building or that you have really good understanding of word meanings and a strong vocabulary. It could be anything really, music, art. And your rock could be struggling to easily read or spell words that you totally know the meanings of. Does that make sense? Think about it.

Some people who grow up to be great story tellers and writers struggle with spelling. Some mix up syllables when trying to pronounce a long and complicated word. People can be smart and creative, but they have these rocks too. Rocks make you work a little harder to get over or around them. That can make you stronger. In fact, lots of successful people who have learning differences say they learned to work harder because of their rocks, their school challenges. Learning to work hard has been an important part of their success.Getting back up after a fall or a stumble is called “resilience.” Scientists who study success tell us that children who develop resilience are happier and accomplish more in their lives. I have noticed that learning to rise up after a fall or challenge has given me more control over my own life. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?

Other times rocks can just be a pain. There’s no two ways about it. Learning to deal with the frustration of rocks can become a strength.Sometimes, if you look at it in the right way, a weakness might be covering up strength. For example, some people I know who have a hard time remembering the order of letters when spelling or who have a hard time remembering the sequence of steps to solve a math problem, are good at creative problem-solving. Sequence means going step by step, from A to B to C to D, etc. On the other hand, creative problem-solving means thinking of the problem and the solution in new ways, like going from A to D, or C to G to B.I’ve met kids and adults who aren’t the fastest readers of books, but who are great at “reading people.” Understanding people is a super important skill.You might have messy looking handwriting and be a wonderful painter or builder.

My advice? Work hard on things that are difficult, but remember to spend time on the things you are good at, that you love to do. It’s a balance.So if you have struggles with reading or spelling, if you have dyslexia, or even if you don’t, remember that if you keep looking, you can ?nd the things you are good at. It takes time to discover your core gift, your “light within.” Sean (the illustrator of this book) and I wish you the best. You or your parents can write to us at sanfordmshapiro@gmail.com We’d love to hear about your stories and rocket discoveries!

All the best, Sanford

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“A Light Within My Dyslexia” Available in Libraries

My new children’s book, “A Light Within My Dyslexia” is now available in the Seattle WA Public library.

It’s an adventure tale of finding resilience and developing grit in the face of challenges in life and school.

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Scholarships for Students with Learning Disabilities

From U Michigan and their “Dyslexia Help”

Students with Learning Disabilities can be eligible for scholarships based on qualifying criteria in addition to LD.

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Learning Disabilities, Wounds in Our Schools.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Children with learning disabilities and even mild learning differences are often under-served, mis-educated and marginalized. Rates of depression, anxiety and trauma are much higher for these children as they become teens snd young adults. In this article from The Hill dot com in rec0gnition of October being Dyslexic and LD Awareness month, confront these troubling issues about the wounding of our children and teens with LD. Children and teens who simply have variations in their learning profile are the longstanding canaries in our institutional coal mines. The problem is that hardly anyone hears their cries. Worse still are the additional disparities in treatment, for children of color. Children of color are misdiagnosed and mis-treated in schools and treatment centers at alarmingly higher percentages. Learning better ways to see and treat our children with learning variations helps all children and struggling teens.

#UniversalDesignforLearning #universaldesignintherapy #evokewildernesstherapy #therapyforallkindsofminds

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Exploring Life and Mental Health aspects of ADHD

Another engaging conversation with Andrew Taylor from Octagon Mentoring. Andrew Taylor is a young adult mentoring leader, working in the USA and Costa Rica.

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Executive Functions Are Not Just Important for School Tasks

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Childhood Anxiety: The Prison of Your Mind and the Way Through

Anxious student at Chrysalis School in Montana being supported by staff and peers as she works her way up and through her fears and self-limiting beliefs.

As we’ve discussed before, the most current research on childhood anxiety indicates that the most effective treatment for our kids is parent training. Parent training in the right way; offering tools and perspectives that strengthen and support our children, without weakening them through over-accommodating their anxious behaviors. The way in which parents and caregivers are wired to protect their children can unwittingly reinforce a child’s own self-limiting beliefs. When our own nervous systems are hijacked by our children’s anxiety, we do and say the wrong things. And in doing so, we signal to the child that their imagined threats are real. This is what encourages, accelerates, and perpetuates a child’s anxiety.

Spring Washam a noted meditation teacher recently taught me more about how we can be imprisoned in our own minds: a mind-made prison created by false and self-limiting beliefs from our own unique wounds of childhood. Unexamined, they limit our reach and connection to our children, especially as they struggle and meet obstacles. Ms, Washam teaches, among many other topics, on the life and strength of Harriet Tubman. Harriet of course is known for her leadership and bravery with the Underground Railroad. Harriet was also a champion, role model and teacher of freeing one’s mind of self-imprisonment. In effect she voiced “They may try and break me, they may lock me up, but am I a slave? Heck no. I am free.” Nelson Mandela spoke of this years later.

If we want to unburden and free our children of anxious thoughts and beliefs it’s crucial that we examine our own beliefs and triggers about what our children are capable of and when and how we protect. With therapy and/or training it’s vital we explore the anxious parts of our own minds and hearts, which are often triggered when our kids are struggling and in anxious distress.

Resources and references:

“Over-Accommodating a Child’s Anxious Emotions Can Backfire”www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202004/over-accommodating-childs-anxious-emotions-can-backfire

Spring Washam www.springwasham.com

Chrysalis School, Montana www.chrysalisschoolmontana.com

Waypoint Academy, a program for teens and young adults with anxiety: www.waypointacademy.com/home/new/

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It’s Just a Kid’s Story, Right?

In fables, myth and adventure lies the power to evoke resilience in our children and our selves. Because…we’re… never…too…old….

Fables, myths, and tales of adventure have held a power to remind us of the human condition. For more than a thousand years, across lands and cultures, they’ve evoked in us our universal questions, our sacred selves and an enduring power to prevail during the toughest of times.

Children’s stories hold a special value, often in their simplicity. And when we read them to our children, the doors to our our own imaginations open.

During these times of uncertainty…Because we’re never too old.

An article about my new book for kids “A Light Within My Dyslexia”

Overcoming Self-doubts and nay-sayers
amzn.to/3g1i2xN
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Working Together + Personal Grit= Success for Children and Struggling Teens

In this excerpt from my new book ‘A Light Within My Dyslexia’ Bear and Turtle counsel a distraught Beaver about individual “Core Gifts,” following one’s dreams, and the power of collaboration and connection.

-As Beaver’s tears began to fall, Fred and Sam began speaking. They took turns but spoke almost as one voice…    ”Beaver, fear not. We’ve seen you.  We see things you don’t realize yet. For all your struggles…we see your talents and the ways that you are so important. Your dreams are your golden light and this light is your gift and power.”

…By now Beaver was fully listening. But he was still upset. So he asked, “What good is it if I can’t finish the job and the town washes away?”

…Fred piped up. “You’re missing an important part of most solutions. For one thing, you’re missing a team. You make a mistake that many of us do. You are trying to do this alone. Who can you ask for help?”

Available on Amazon at amzn.to/3g1i2xN

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My New Book “A Light Within My Dyslexia” Available Now

Available now on Amazon.  amzn.to/3g1i2xN

When I helped start a school for dyslexic learners years back, it never occurred to me that one of our first students would become my illustrator years later. His talent was quietly evident even then (for those of us lucky enough to pay attention). Getting the right kind of instruction (Slingerland/O-G) gave Sean the green light to explore new confidence and to develop his extraordinary skills as an artist.
PS. Any purchase made before 9 am Monday (EST) and I will be donating 48% to “To Write Love on Her Arms” a wonderful non profit dedicated to helping kids and teens with depression, anxiety, self-harm struggles.

“When I was younger I had problems with reading. Now I love to read and can read fast. This book makes me feel like I’m not the only one who has some trouble, and makes you feel more comfortable with who you are. It’s celebrating how you are perfect just the way you are. For me the lesson of the book is to pay attention to your core values.”

-Finn Mellor, age 10

“This book bestows such a powerful message for its young readers and also parents and educators: be compassionate and open to ourselves and to others for all the ways we can use our skills and dreams to live healthfully together. As Finn has learned the basics of “self-literacy” he is secure that he has the ‘right rocket’ as Sanford describes personal strengths.”

-Jean S.Carlton, RN and Finn’s grandmother

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“A Teacher and a Student.” The Story Behind the Story of My new book “A Light Within My Dyslexia”

It’s been one of the great privileges of my life to help teach and inspire kids who learn differently. When Jeff Allyn and I started the Thomas Allyn School (now The Chartwell School) for kids with dyslexia, Sean was one of the first six nervous founding students. They were looking for a new beginning and so were we.

Too often, kids who simply learn differently aren’t taught in the right way. Giving them explicit, multi-modal teaching that teaches them the logic, structure and predictability of language makes reading and writing possible for them. For Sean it was life-changing.

It was easy and natural for me to stay in touch with Sean over the years. As my career continued, Sean graduated high school, and then Arizona State University.  Sean and I stayed in touch.  When he was at ASU I visited him so I could pay off a long-ago and still unpaid spelling bet. I had a long- running wager with my students, a kind of nerdy one I’ll admit.  But it was fun and nobody had ever solved my riddle. Until Sean. The bet’s payoff was a BBQ ribs lunch. Seeing him in college and paying off that debt just before he completed his degree in computer graphics was awesome for us both!

Fast forward. A few years ago I wrote a story for another young student of mine who was struggling with anxiety in addition to his dyslexia. It’s not uncommon for bright kids with learning differences to develop anxiety. I decided to write a story about a turtle and a bear who worry and fret and who struggle to come out of their shell and den. And, who overcome.

When I decided to publish, I knew I needed a great illustrator. Of course I thought of Sean. After he agreed to help, I realized, “holy mackerel” there’s no one better suited for this than Sean. He knew the journey my characters were facing. And in his illustrations I saw the same whimsical humor and intelligence I’d noticed and loved so long ago.

This is a match made in heaven I thought. Sean was thrilled to get back to what he loves, illustrations and creative work. We love working together and are often shaking our heads and full hearts.

When our first book, “A Light Within” received the designation of # 1 New Release,” we couldn’t believe it—except we could, we can. And now, we’ve completed a second book, “A Light Within My Dyslexia.” This one’s an adventure story to help develop grit and resilience in spite of obstacles.

There you have it. Our story within the story.

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The Myths of “Fixing” Children and Teens with Learning and Attention Struggles

Photo: Getty

Teenagers with school struggles due to Learning and Attention problems make up the largest single demographic in treatment programs for addictions, defiance, depression and anxiety. 

The evidence is overwhelming that kids with attention and learning disabilities are more likely to experience trauma, depression, anxiety, and life challenges including job instability, injury and incarceration.

Far too many of these children, even with well-intentioned schools and teachers, are misunderstood and mis-educated.  In addition, because of the very natural instincts for parents to protect and regulate their kids, the “Myths of Fixing” these children are strong and often counter-productive.  

What do the neurobiological and psychological sciences tell us about how to help turn parents’ desire to protect and accommodate towards real healing and treatment?

Over the coming weeks I’ll lay out the most critical areas to attend to for treatment providers; for therapists and parents.

Areas we’ll cover:

  1. The Differences between Fixing and Treating
  2. The Prison of One’s Mind
  3. The Challenging Aspects of Multiple Parent Roles
  4. The Messiness of Understanding and Acknowledging the emotional neighborhood of your child with Learning and Attention struggles.
  5. The Role of Grief and Guilt
  6. The Need for Acknowledgement and Parent Approval; Building blocks for self-efficacy
  7. How the wrong kinds of Positivity Can Hurt Children.
  8. How we’re incorporating UDL into training and treatment at Evoke Therapy Programs.
  9. How Racial Bias impacts Treatment for kids with LD’s

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