What was it like when Matthew was First Diagnosed with a Learning Disability?
MOTHER: The process of diagnosing Matthew began while he was in Grade 4; he was so bright but he had such a hard time learning to spell and read. He demonstrated an ability to comprehend but his weak reading and spelling skills meant that despite his hard work, he never received an A. In grade 5, Matthew received his psycho-educational assessment. During the process, I was anxious and nervous about what they would discover. Once Matthew received his diagnosis, it meant that school would always be a tough place for him; no matter how hard he tried, he would be viewed as the kid who struggled. The psychologist who diagnosed Matthew with a learning disability took time to privately speak with Matthew about his findings. I believe the time taken to talk with Matthew has had a very positive effect on him.
MATTHEW: When I was first diagnosed, it made me feel odd but at the time, I did not know what was going to change. I thought that I was maybe less smart than some of my classmates. I also realized that it was going to be harder for me to prove myself to my teachers, myself, and others that I had the same ability as others.
What is the Impact of Having a Family Member with a Learning Disability?
MOTHER: Matthew gets anxious and needs to talk, so he talks a lot! We have to remind ourselves that this is how he processes information and emotions. Sometimes it is hard to give him the time he needs and I know that this has been difficult for him. We have had to learn to recognize his efforts and remind him every day of what he brings to the world because the world of academia can be frustrating. It has meant being in close contact with the school to ensure that Matthew is receiving the accommodations he is entitled to, to level the playing field. It has meant coaching him on advocacy skills to that he could advocate for himself. It has meant learning all about assistive technology so that we could help him embrace the use of technology as a tool to support his learning. It has meant finding things outside of academics that Matthew could connect with, that would ensure he remained positive and continued to develop strong self-esteem.
Most of all, Matthew keeps our family grounded. He reminds us that intelligence must be measured by more than reading ability. He brings joy when he sees the world just a little differently.
What are Matthew’s Strengths?
MATTHEW: Some of my greatest strengths are in the areas of verbal memory and expression. I am able to express my knowledge much greater if I am able to speak to you or record it. In school, I succeed in class discussions or presentations, as I am able to express myself better. My strengths also allow me to use my vocabulary and other tools I have to the best of my abilities and not be limited by other factors.
MOTHER: Matthew is a wonderfully spirited adolescent. He is dramatic and confident in his abilities. Matthew has had many opportunities to speak to large audiences about his learning disability. He has learned to persevere and knows who he is and what he is capable of. Matthew utilizes his technology to its full capabilities. Matthew’s has grit and compassion for others. He has experienced marginalization in the classroom and because of this, he tried hard not to marginalize others.
TEACHER: Matthew is a bright, keen and dedicated learner who benefits from oral instructions and visual aids to reinforce expectations. He is an auditory learner who has incredible expressive language abilities. Given clear expectations and time to process information, Matthew demonstrates limitless potential!
What are Matthew’s Needs?
MATTHEW: In school I find it most difficult to write or spell words. I also find it difficult to manage my time and large workloads. I also find it difficult to stay focused while I am reading; to help with this, I use programs like Kurzweil to read my textbooks to me, allowing me to stay focused and utilize my auditory skills.
MOTHER: Matthew requires reading and writing support. He is now in Grade 12 and is able to advocate for himself. Matthew needs support managing his assignments. When he receives a project, we work together to break it down into manageable chunks so that he is able to meet his deadlines. He gets anxious when he thinks he will not be able to manage his workload. Matthew has difficulty with spelling and in his writing; he has a hard time with clarity. Matthew is forgetful and often appears disorganized; however, I have come to appreciate that he organizes the world for himself.
TEACHER: Matthew struggles with spelling, conventions and organization of ideas but has been incredibly successful in school though the use of assistive software to express his ideas and his ability to advocate for himself and others.
What are Some Strategies that Matthew uses to Help Him Succeed?
MATTHEW: The tools that I use to help me succeed are creating checklists with deadlines to keep me organized and to manage my time more appropriately so that I don’t feel stressed when I have a large assignment. I also use Kurzweil as it allows me take notes more effectively and allows me to study more easily. Additionally, I find that making mind maps helps me collect my thoughts and make connections, allowing me to understand all the knowledge I have and how it fits into both the bigger and smaller picture.
MOTHER: Matthew is an auditory learner so he benefits from having his textbooks on his computer, so that he can use Kurzweil to read the textbook or novel to him.
TEACHER: When I first met Matthew, he was in grade 8 and I could tell that he was a strong advocate for himself. He was able to articulate clearly what type of learner he was and what he needed in order to be successful. Over the past 5 years, I have had the pleasure of watching Matthew mature, become more confident in his abilities, and foster confidence in others. While Matthew was a strong student when I first met him, he has blossomed into an even more dedicated learner – he sets goals for himself, is proud of his accomplishments and shares his story with others. Matthew has the ability to empower those around him with his wit, sincerity and story; he makes me proud every day.
What Should Educators Know?
MATTHEW: I think the most important thing a teacher should know is to never give up; students with learning disabilities may not always appear to try their hardest or have the greatest confidence but to have someone fight for you, to make you try, and do your best is the greatest thing you can ask a teacher to do. The reason I say this is that a teacher can support you and push you to become a better learner; they can support you to become a self-advocate and help you to understand how you learn and make you more confident. This commitment to a student with learning disabilities is the most important thing – it is something that will stay with the student forever.
MOTHER: I believe that we have the make the classroom inclusive. Students with a learning disability are not lazy. They need to be supported and praised for their efforts. A learning disability is only one part of who they are as people – honour them as students. Embrace their technology so that they will embrace it. It is not enough to cross out questions they don’t have to do – this continues what they already believe about themselves. Teachers have the power to stop the stigma. Remember that their accommodations are not cheating but rather, leveling the playing field so that they can demonstrate how smart they are.
TEACHER: The most important message all teachers need to know, when working with students with learning disabilities, is that their potential is limitless – that they are capable beyond measure and when given an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of concepts in a variety of ways, they can and will be incredibly successful.