Are you pleased with how your ISD provides information for parents regarding dyslexia and other learning disabilities? Can you easily find information on your ISD’s website about dyslexia, autism, ADHD and special needs? Or, are you left searching for information through other sources?
Read my post on the Advocate magazine today about what my local ISD is doing – and not doing – to reach out to parents of children with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities.
This post was originally publised on the Advocate magazine’s Far North Dallas Blog on January 30, 2012.
Have you ever found yourself in a room surrounded by people whom you suddenly realize actually both understand and can personally relate to exactly what you are going through? As a parent of two children who learn differently, I can tell you that this scenario is something that parents like me actually dream about. As one of the mothers in my neighborhood support & study group describes it, when seeking help for your child with a difference or special need, you often feel like you are alone on an island with no hope of help in sight; isolated, lonely and desperate for even one person who just “gets it.”
But Thursday night, at the RISD Parent Dyslexia Education Group (RISD PDEG) meeting led by guest speaker Dr. Jen Rawley, that dream, even for just an hour or two, became reality. I know it sounds pretty hokey, but it’s actually true. Sitting at a table in the library of the RISD’s Professional Development Center with two other moms from my elementary school who are also members of my neighborhood support group, and joined by 15-20 other RISD parents who were in the exact same boat, I found not only support, but a source of both knowledge and real-life expertise that I have long been seeking.
The parent education and information group, led by parent Debra Levy, meets about once a month to discuss topics related to dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities. The group, which is endorsed, monitored and attended by RISD personnel, provides an open-discussion forum for parents of students with dyslexia and related disorders.
While the PDEG group is not advertised clearly on the RISD website nor to the general RISD parent population (only parents whose children receive dyslexia services from the RISD currently receive flyers and emails announcing the upcoming meetings), the group is open to all interested parents in the district.
While I have attended the PDEG meetings before, last night was different. Rather than the school district presenting parents with its definition of dyslexia and explaining what services it can and cannot provide for dyslexic students, the information shared was from a completely different and very refreshing source. Dr. Jen Rawley, Psy. D., came to the meeting armed with a wonderful set of tools, suggestions, resources and accommodations for parents to use when working with school districts to obtain appropriate help and services for their children with dyslexia, ADHD and other learning differences allowed and required by both the Federal 504 and IDEA laws.
Dr. Rawley, who is also the on-campus educational diagnostician at the Dallas Academy located in the Lake Highlands neighborhood, came prepared to not only share advocacy tips with parents, but to facilitate an honest and open discussion among the attendees about what our children are struggling with, and how to help.
Dr. Rawley started the evening by giving parents the three most important accommodations to focus on for LD kids (teaching them self-advocacy, helping them find an organizational tool that works for them and using your child’s educational evaluation wisely). She encouraged parents to educate their kids about their differences in a gentle but up-front way, reminding us to be honest with our kids about our own weaknesses as well as our strengths.
My favorite part of the night was just the sheer amount of open discussion that took place not only with Dr. Rawley and her team from the Dallas Academy, but among RISD parents – sharing their favorite websites, software, technology, books, blogs, films about kid’s with learning differences – you name it. It was this incredible open forum where we all just talked about our struggles with working with teachers to give our children the appropriate accommodations, and about our triumphs upon discovering a method, tool or even something as simple as a font that has helped our kids succeed.
I realized toward the end of the evening that it was the combination of both sympathetic parents who were dealing with the exact same scenario as I was, along with the guidance from a professional, qualified educational diagnostician and pediatric psychologist who was willing to spend unlimited time answering our questions and listening to our concerns, that struck just the right chord. We were able to get answers to questions that many had long been seeking, and feel a sense of support and camaraderie among parents in our own school district whom were seeking the same answers. The best way to describe it was that feeling of, “Oh, I’m NOT crazy!” or “This really IS hard,” because look at all of the other parents who live within a few miles of me who are struggling with the exact same thing.
The best takeaway for me, and several other parents based on our discussion, was some very basic advice suggested during the meeting. Ask your school this question if your child is continuing to struggle after accommodations or other help has been put in place: “What can we do if my child is not able to accomplish this?” Then start talking. The best tool you have at your immediate disposal is clear, open communication with your child’s teacher and school. If you don’t ask for it, your child may not get it. If you do ask for it, you might be surprised how open the school may be to figuring out a way to get it done for your child.
Feel like you are on your own island? Want to see more information on the RISD website about available services for dyslexia and other learning differences, ADHD, autism or special needs? Comment below, and share what would help YOU.
Or maybe you are an RISD parent interested in joining the RISD PDEG? Contact parent leader Debra Levy to inquire about being added to the email group for frequent updates on parent dyslexia educational opportunities.
Contact Shannon Suess, the RISD’s Dyslexia Coordinator to ask about the Texas law that requires that all children attending public schools, starting in kindergarten, be assessed for language-based learning disabilities if they are continually struggling in the general classroom and/or are displaying characteristics of dyslexia. For a list of early signs of dyslexia visit the International Dyslexia Association’s website or access the Texas Dyslexia Handbook online and scroll down to pages eight and nine.
And don’t forget to share this post with friends and family members who may have a child attending an RISD school who is struggling with a learning disability or other difference. Ask them to take a few seconds to comment below, too, especially if they are interested in hearing about and attending similar RISD-sponsored events in the future.