Excellent article in the Oregonian about The Shadow Project and our new children’s book “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down”. It discusses the challenges children with learning disabilities face and the importance of teaching your children perseverance and goal-setting.
Article: “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down” aims to inspire kids with learning disabilities (and their parents)
January 4, 2014
(For the original article go to OregonLive.com)
In Christy Scattarella’s recently published children’s book, “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down,” reading is anything but fundamental.
When Alex, an elementary school student, opens a book, the letters wiggle and squirm. As drawn by Portland illustrator Winky Wheeler, they slide around on the pages, then right out of the book. “I give up,” Alex thinks in despair.
Scattarella based her book on her own son’s experience, which also led her to found theShadow Project, a Portland-based nonprofit that works with teachers in more than 30 schools in Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties to support K-8 students in special education.
“Special education has been around for a while now but it’s something that’s still steeped in myth and mystery,” Scattarella said. “It’s a population of kids that can be somewhat isolated.”
Help bust myths. “Forty-three percent of the population still believes that learning disabilities are somehow correlated with intelligence. That’s not true,” Scattarella said. People who have learning disabilities have the same range of intelligence as the rest of the population.
Know the law. Under federal law, children with learning disabilities need to be in the least restrictive classroom environment, Scattarella said. Students participating in the Shadow Project, for example, spend a portion of their day in a mainstream classroom. “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down” shows what that’s like for Alex.
Understand your child’s specific disability. Take dyslexia, a neurological disorder that affects how people process language. Having dyslexia, by itself, isn’t necessarily enough to make a child eligible for special education, Scattarella said. “It has to be significant enough that there’s a significant gap between what you’re capable of accomplishing and what you’re actually accomplishing.”
Also, a lot of children have more than one learning disability, Scattarella said, such as a combination of dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.
Parents should also understand that learning disabilities affect more than a child’s academic performance, she said. The disabilities also have an impact on self-esteem, sometimes leading children to question whether they even belong in school. “That’s really what this book is trying to address,” Scattarella said. “It isn’t just one child’s story, it’s the story in Oregon of tens of thousands of children, and millions of children across the country. They’re struggling to read. They’re ashamed. They give up.”
Understand your child. Scattarella said of her son, “I understood that he had disabilities. I understood that he was in special education. I did not appreciate the depth of his struggle: what it was doing to him and, really, what was most meaningful to him.”
As parents, she said, “we have to pay attention to that and be a part of our child’s journey. … We need to understand what it is that they need and what’s going to really resonate with him.”
Telling such a child to “try harder” is counterproductive, she said: “They’re already trying as hard as they can.” Instead, she said, parents need to work on equipping their kids for success by recognizing exactly what they need, listening to them and rewarding the small accomplishments.
“It’s not about reading and writing just like the other kids do,” she said. “It’s about finding your own talents. … What may look like a small step to us is really a big step to them.”
Understand, too, that learning disabilities are lifelong – children won’t outgrow them. “That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful,” Scattarella said, noting that her son is now a college graduate with a career.
Teach your children resilience. “By virtue of having a learning disability … you are going to fail more often, “Scattarella said, “but there’s a difference between failing and feeling like a failure.” In her book, Alex learns to advocate for himself and to get help.
“Ultimately, what determines a child’s success is that character … it’s that ability to navigate the difficult moments,” Scattarella said.
That theme of resilience, she noted, is also emphasized in a 2013 U.S. Department of Education report titled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.”
Teach your children goal-setting. If a child has an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, at school, Scattarella urges parents to “go to those meetings, contribute, and be part of your child’s goal-setting experience.” For home use, the Shadow Project is testing goal-setting booklets for families that are meant to help teach children what a goal is, how to achieve one and how to deal with setbacks, Scattarella said.
Scattarella recommended the National Center for Learning Disabilities as a good resource for parents, particularly these articles:
- Attention and Learning Problems: Which Came First?
- Warning Signs & Evaluation
- Essential Skills for Becoming Your Child’s Advocate
- Students with special needs: where to find help and what parents should know
- Oregon school districts vary dramatically in share of students with disabilities: Chalk It Up
- Portland special education students ill-served, state figures say