The “I Can’t Help You” Podcast with Danny Conroy

Thanks for a great interview Danny Conroy,  a leader in the Recovery field.   Listen to Danny Conroy interview me on subjects related to learning, learning differences and mental health.

Podcast with Sanford on LD and Mental Health

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“I’ve Looked at Life from Both Sides Now” (Thanks Joni Mitchell)

Philip Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet proves that learning differently (dyslexia) can result in greatness. His writing is powerful. If you listen to his story you also hear about anger and deep shame as a result of being an academic outcast and misunderstood. Loss of connection and shame are too often the legacy of an education system ill equipped for Learning Differences. Responding to this burden isn’t a binary choice. LD’s can be opportunities for success but they also carry great risks for struggling with anxiety depression and self-harm. How do we carry both?

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On Becoming Heroic Parents and Grandparents

I’ll be presenting to professionals, parents and teens in the beautiful city of Cuenca, Ecuador

Raising Resilient Kids by Becoming Your Best Selves

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Privilege is not Always Protection

Kate Middleton’s Brother James Reveals His Struggle With Depression, Dyslexia and ADD

The coin is sharp and two-sided:  We know that people with learning disabilities and developmental differences can have tremendous lives, professional success, great fulfillment and joy. There is however, always a shadow, and ignorance of the increased risks our/these children, teens and adults face serves no one least of all them.

No doubt, wealth and privilege can give access to services and can soften consequences if legal issues arise, but the bottom line as sharply shown in this article is that LD and Mental Health issues cut across all lines

“I know I’m richly blessed and live a privileged life. But it did not make me immune to depression,” Middleton said.

“It’s not a feeling but an absence of feelings. You exist without purpose and direction. I couldn’t feel joy, excitement or anticipation—only heart-thudding anxiety propelled me out of bed in the morning.”

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Learning Disabilities, The Gift or The Burden?

There are support groups, blogs, and  websites that  land on one side of a false choice about kids and school.  Parents and some professionals tend to land on one side or the other.

Are Dyslexia and related learning differences and even Autism Spectrum a gift in some way?  Or are they burdens filled with deficits that must be fixed ?

I tend to walk  the middle path.

In  a recent post (on a Facebook “dyslexia support page:”)  I commented on the subject:

“OK; I’ll weigh in, knowing that people view stuff like this from different angles, and that it’s highly personal and emotional for most on this thread.

I’ve been working with kids and adults with learning differences for over 30 years. I’ve also raised a son with LDs and have been involved with both gifted education and struggling teens with depression, addictions and anxiety.  Too many times their self-worth have been damaged by unsettling school histories.  That said, what has worked well for me both personally and professionally is to avoid choosing between the idea that it’s a gift and the opposite message, that it’s a terribly heavy burden.

Let’s think about it this way: What if you had a condition that resulted in real world struggle but if approached the right way can give you some advantages, like learning to work hard or learning how to take good care of yourself, or learning to surround yourself with good support (there are many other attributes that can come from challenges).  If one sugar coats the real challenge of struggling ( to easily read and write) it’s to no one’s benefit.  Alternately if what you mostly do is try and “fix the problem” (work on deficits), then you may inadvertently be teaching your child that’s who they are; a problem to be fixed. The middle road is in my opinion usually better. Find age appropriate ways to be honest about challenges and deficits AND also focus on strengths, affinities and seeing the whole child.  It’s not particularly helpful to pretend that reading disabilities are the same as having green eyes.  Although they are both simply genetic variations, the consequences in the real world are quite different. “

If anything, thought leaders in the fields of mental health and positive psychology tell us this:  It is not what happens to us that determines our futures but how we make sense of the things that happen and then our responses.  Victor Frankl a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist helped us understand this.  Trauma is real, and learning disabilities can lead to educational trauma at its worst.  But it’s neither a gift outright nor a terrible block to a bright future all by itself.  It will  lean towards one or the other depending upon how it’s treated and how we respond and help kids see it as a part of them, not all of them.

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One Person’s Path to Literacy


This was written by Richard Wanderman back in 2000, in which he chronicled his path from “school failure” to artist, writer and educational consultant.  Richard was the founder of this website.

“I’m 48 years old, married, live in a nice house, have a successful career as an educational consultant, and I have a learning disability, dyslexia. My life was not always so great. I was a premature breech birth, had meningitis, polio, and every childhood illness. I was tested for everything including language problems from an early age so I was labeled “dyslexic” early. I went to a special school until 6th grade where I had plenty of extra help and remediation. Still, I had to repeat 6th grade at that school. I suffered the rest of my school days in public schools where I did poorly.

When I went to college my life improved markedly because this is where I discovered art. The art world gave me a chance to express myself without words, so I took a lot of art courses. I got good at making things with clay and I learned my first important lesson about my language disability: I could be smart and articulate with clay and still have a language disability which made it hard to be smart and articulate with words.

My next big life lesson happened a few years later. I drove Volkswagens because they were the only cars I could afford. I knew little about cars and had never even changed the oil in one. One day the engine in my VW bus seized up and I didn’t have the money to have it fixed. I bought the book How to Fix Your Volkswagen for the Complete Idiot. I started reading, slowly. I bought a few metric tools, pulled the engine, and dragged it into the backyard where I took it apart. Two weeks later when I got the engine into the car and it started I learned that when you feel good about yourself and are willing to take risks you can transfer confidence from one domain to another. I knew nothing about engines but took the confidence I’d gotten with art into a totally new domain.

My next domain was rock climbing. Hey, I don’t bungi jump; I’m not crazy. I got into climbing because it was a fun thing to do with friends. We all got into it at the same time and were all chicken from the start. However, we noticed that the more we did it the easier it was to take “exposure.” So we did it more. And the more I did it the better I got. It wasn’t a talent thing, it was practice. After about five years of climbing I found myself in Yosemite Valley on a big wall. What had I learned? I’d learned that if you enjoy something and do it all the time you get better at it. Practice makes better.

Later I took that idea into a very scary place. I decided to see if I could actually learn how to read and write by practicing. I read and wrote every day for two years. This may seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me; I had no idea that most people read things every day. I had avoided reading things as much as possible and avoided writing completely. Nevertheless, for two years I took my prior experiences and mapped them into learning how to read and write, and at the end of two years I’d learned a lot. Most importantly, I was literate.

Then came the dawn of personal computers. Once I used one, and then bought one, my writing and then my reading improved at a rapid clip.

Here’s the point: had I been given a computer as a child in school I doubt I’d have been mature enough to take full advantage of it and I doubt the school would have allowed me to use it in a way that would have been meaningful to me. I needed to go through the long, messy process that I went through with art, cars, climbing, and reading and writing to get to a place in my life where I knew I was smart enough to dive into an area that was totally unknown, hard, but interesting.

For me growing up was particularly painful and messy. My father used to tell me the bumps would build character and I would roll my eyes. Well, he was right. And even though I wouldn’t want to go through it all again I have plenty of character because of it all. And I can read and write.”

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Treat Parents to Help Childhood Anxiety


Children with Learning Disabilities are at higher risk for anxiety-related struggles. It’s not surprising when you think about how the brain’s system for vigilance/hyper-arousal  is frequently activated when kids are not receiving the right kind of help in schools.  Given that they are more likely to be on high alert for being called on to read aloud for example, for being teased, and are too often hiding shame, it’s not a surprise that anxiety is prevalent.

The bulk of the “cure” for schooling that’s not well designed for dyslexic learners is proper instruction that’s well matched to their learning profile.

However these days children also struggle with anxiety much more frequently than ever before due to a whole host of additional factors, though school stress is the number one ingredient.  As seen in this article, treating a child’s anxiety  requires good education for parents,  and as presented in this Yale study (link below), is as effective as good treatment for the kids.

Parents of anxious children almost always try to accommodate their child, Lebowitz said. For instance, if the child suffers from social anxiety, no friends are invited to the house; in the case of separation anxiety, parents sleep with the child or never leave the home. Parents constantly reassure a child with generalized anxiety. While the responses of parents are natural, studies have shown they also leave children suffering from debilitating anxiety into adulthood, Lebowitz said.

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Richard Wanderman Passes


                                Photo Credit: Joy Brown

Last week we lost a one of a kind in Richard Wanderman. Richard was the founder of this site back in the 90’s. He was a potter, a rock climber, a photographer and an educational technologist. You can find some of his writings and photography at

He also happened to be dyslexic. Richard was generous in sharing what he knew from a personal and professional perspective. He marched to his own beat and could make complex and nuanced  ideas easily understood.

He was a husband and family man who was cherished by many. He was instrumental in setting up and advising schools across the country on computer labs and overall approaches to using technology to help students with dyslexia learn better.

Brain cancer come on pretty suddenly this winter.

This beautiful song/poem below from Bill Lauf, Richard’s dear friend.

SLEEP, FRIEND, SLEEP. (Adapted from Sleep, George, Sleep)

Sleep friend, sleep. Your wings are fine.
The world was ours, and now, only mine
I was caught pretending that life goes on
So sleep, friend, sleep when you’re gone

Dream, I dream dreams of you
When our song wasn’t blue
We were happy blending chords ’til dawn
Dream, friend, dream when you’re gone

Nothing haunts like the mystery
Of passing to history
And soul upon soul such an endless sea
Of lives, loves, pains and passions

See, friend, see, I am here
In this gray atmosphere
I am winding my way too
See, friend, see I love you
See, friend, see I love you

Thank you Richard for all you’ve been. I hope you’re still at the wheel up in heaven.

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New Dyslexia Book for Kids

In an ideal world having a learning difference shouldn’t be traumatic. It should simply result in being taught in the way that fits you.
But that’s not the way it is for most. Imagine working every day at a job when half the time you’re trying to avoid embarrassment and shame. Children and teens with learning differences struggle with this reality every day. Kids with reading problems like dyslexia can be brilliant and creative. But one thing that’s almost never “positive” is when they’re called on to read aloud in class. From our upcoming second book in the Light Within Series, “The Light Within Dyslexia,” Sean Geddes and I describe and illustrate one such time in Beaver’s life:

“Beaver tried to focus on the job at hand, but his face was getting red. He felt hot and he felt small. In fact, he wished he could disappear! “Uh, ok.” He cleared his throat a couple of times. “Dis–cover…the…diff-er-ence… be-cause…pre-da-tro, no!… pre-duh, tors..predators! And prey… when they look–for—food.”
He wasn’t sure whether or not some of his classmates were snickering or making jokes about his reading. But it sure felt like they were.
When school was over and it was time to go home, Beaver felt defeated and alone. He hung his head low and wished he had some sort of invisibility cloak. As he walked home, the laughter and chatter of his classmates seemed far off and muted.
He felt far off and muted.
As he approached his family home, he saw his mom and dad outside busy with some project. If there was one thing you could say about his Beaver family; they were usually busy with one project or another.
“Hi there honey,” his mom said.
“How was school today Champ?” asked his dad. Beaver tried to put on a smile and lifted his head. “Fine,” he answered.
He often said “fine” in answer to that school question. What he meant was “tiring,” or “frustrating.” In fact, if he were good with spelling and playing with words like his brother, he might’ve joked that “f–i–n–e” really stood for “frustrating, intense, not good, and echh.”

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Dream Big

Michael Cammarata discusses ignoring negative messages of failure and instead despite his dyslexia-related school struggles, became a highly successful serial entrepreneur.

Support the dreams of your child with Learning Differences

My family motivated me to do things differently: they encouraged me to reject the traditional way of learning and to be innovative. My Mom never stopped looking for different schools and the right teachers that would help me learn in the way that I needed to excel. Having that unwavering support set the foundation for my confidence to ultimately overcome dyslexia and thrive in the business world.

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Southport School Receives Half Million Dollar Gift

Southport School

“This gift will give to generations upon generations of creative, young learners and thinkers, and our community is deeply moved by the generosity of The Daniel E. Offutt III Charitable Trust”

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Diana King RIP

Diana Hanbury King in about 1972. “The time to diagnose dyslexia is before the child has a chance to fail at reading,” she said.

Photo Credit: Laura Gilpin

Diana King, a giant in the field of dyslexia passed away last week at her home in CT.
Here is the article from the NY Times

By all accounts including those of friends of mine, she was an extraordinary woman and a trailblazer, including her founding of the world-renowned Kildonan School a school for students with dyslexia, in Amenia, NY.

RIP Ms. King. You will be remembered and honored by many.

She was instrumental in transforming the popular perception of people with dyslexia from being backward or unteachable to being often highly intelligent despite their learning difficulties. Often they were endowed with keen powers of observation and original thinking, innate charm, a sense of balance and high energy.

“We continue to see the tragedy of a bright child coming home from school in the second or third grade in tears — ‘I’m the dumbest kid in all of the second grade’ — and getting stomach aches before they go to school, and all of this totally unnecessary and totally preventable, ” Ms. King said in a videotaped interview with the International Dyslexia Association in 2013. “It drives me crazy.”

Posted in Camps and Residential, K-12 Schools, News | 2 Comments