Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


A Mom's View: This is what dyslexia looks like .....
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March 8, 2017 by Mir Ali

We live dyslexia awareness every day, so I thought I would give you a small look through the glass into our life. Though it's not the same for every person, in my home:

Dyslexia is ...

Nights of research. Trying to discover why your bright, articulate, inquisitive child just cannot seem to grasp the written word. Later, researching reading methodologies, scientific studies, accommodations, and more.

Dyslexia is ...

LA-952_LRA homework nightmare. Many neurotypical children can do worksheets on their own, but your severe/profound child who has dyslexia needs a human reader for those worksheets. Not to mention the fact he's held it together ALL DAY in a written world, and he just needs PEACE at home. Homework is not fun for any of us.

Dyslexia is ...

Celebrating victories. The pure joy in your heart when your child comes to you laughing while reading his very first book. "This is funny, Mom!" And you feel tears well up in your eyes. Could this finally be "it?" The reading breakthrough? That magical moment?

Dyslexia is ...

Surviving in a written world. Struggling to read the menu the following day (after the reading breakthrough) because it's written in some weird fancy font. Stupid fancy fonts

Dyslexia is ...

Becoming "that mom" at school. Only you don't WANT to be "that" mom. You want to be just a regular mom. Why is it so hard? Why is it always so hard?

Dyslexia is ...

Kids at schoolWorrying. Always worrying. In camp/church/school - will they randomly call on kids to read aloud? Will the teacher understand if he refuses? Will he refuse ....or will he try? If he tries and stumbles, will his peers laugh?

Dyslexia is ...

Discovery. Trying new things - sports, art, music - trying to find an area where your child can feel successful. Feeling proud when he finds "this thing", and bragging to everyone who will listen. Maybe bragging too much at times ...

Dyslexia is ...

Sometimes jealousy. From the Accelerated Reader parties that your kid never gets to attend to the mom friend who always posts about her "bookworm" child, jealousy can creep in.

Dyslexia is ...

Celebrating. We celebrate everything in abundance. When he finally does reach his reading goal, we party hard! We know what hard work looks like around here, and we know how to take the time to soak up the success.

Dyslexia is ...

Patience. It may take your child a little bit longer to do some things, but we're learning to enjoy the ride. It also makes us much more patient with others, from the grocery store clerk to the postman.

Dyslexia is ...

Boy and Mom HomeworkLaughter. Finding yourselves sharing inside jokes, parent to child. Perhaps it's a particularly creative spelling or funny word (like sock-pants for tights), but it's so encouraging to see the amazing and self-assured young man your little boy is becoming.

Dyslexia is ...

Awareness. Making sure everyone else knows weaknesses don't define us either or limit us. We can find ways to flow around rocks, and that only makes us stronger.

Dyslexia is .....

Different for everyone. One child may embrace it and want to talk about it all day. Another may want you to just ignore it. One child may read okay, but just be slow. Another child may struggle with the word "cat," but thrive on audiobooks.

Dyslexia is .....

ONE part of my child. It's also a part we embrace, and we hope that in time the world will learn to embrace all of our neuro-diverse brains as well. To learn about dyslexia and accessible materials, log onto LearningAlly.org  JulesAbout the author: Julya Johnson is a blogger, social media manager, and the mother of two children with learning differences. She works at the nonprofit Learning Ally, and co-founded Decoding Dyslexia-TN. Julya is also AOGPE Associate Level Certified.       Read More about A Mom's View: This is what dyslexia looks like .....

Enter Our March Photo Contest - Learning Ally Heroes!
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March 1, 2017 by Mir Ali

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Confessions of an Advocating Mom: To them she's one of many. To me she's everything.
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February 28, 2017 by Mir Ali

Advocating for your child is hard. Learning the proper words to use. Photo of DaughterThe laws. The rights. Trying to predict your child's needs. Being careful to not cross the line between accommodating a need and enabling helplessness. You think you've finally got it right and then BOOM, not working. So you pivot. You change things up for the 78th time. You make calls you don't want to make. You send emails you don't want to send. You are the voice of someone who has not yet found theirs and it's your duty to make sure they're heard. It's uncomfortable. It makes you unpopular with some. You feel like you're a bother. You feel like everyone thinks you're overreacting, overbearing, a crazy mom. Truth is even without 100's of pages of testing and documents to prove you are none of the above it still hurts when you hear the condescending tone, see the eye roll and know that several people have discussed how to "handle" the situation before you show up. It's intimidating. They discuss with you a "student" but they forget that you grew this human being INSIDE YOUR BODY.  That you wished for her and dreamt a million dreams of her, her future, who she'd grow to be. But you never expected this part. The challenges she faces daily, how very much it affects every area of her life. How inadequate it makes you feel that you can't fix it, that you can't carry that burden for her. They see a struggling student wrapped up in a beautiful package. I see a beautifully complicated old soul, compassionate, resilient, creative with so many gifts to share. Gifts that don't fit into any curriculum. To them she's one of many. To me she's everything. She deserves someone who will go to bat for her over and over again. Someone who believes that she's capable of so much more. Someone that will make sure that she's working to her full potential. Someone that is willing to show up. Even when it's scary. Even when it's unknown. Even when it's easier not to. Every child deserves that much. Photo of CourtneyAbout the Author:  Courtney Jager is a mom of three, amateur advocate, and an essential oil educator. As a Learning Ally parent, she is a part of our Learning Ally family.

 Learning Ally LogoLearning Ally is a national non-profit that serves students who have print disabilities, like dyslexia or visual impairment. To find out ways you can help, log onto LearningAlly.org 

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Theater, a Microphone, and a Gift of Giving Back
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February 28, 2017 by Mir Ali

The scene – a hot cramped jury room – devoid of the 1957 humidity and cigarette haze in the Henry Fonda version – but filled with the same explosive mix of anguish, anxiety, and 12 Angry Men.12 Angry Men Scene Our Volunteer Spotlight this week lands on the fellow, 2nd on the left, who played Juror 3 in the January 2017 Sandy Spring Theatre Group production of Reginald Rose’s classic play. Steve Swift, a retired English teacher and DC Studio volunteer, moonlights on the boards and has performed in productions of: Guys and Dolls, The Sound of Music, Much Ado About Nothing, and Sherlock Holmes: The Final Solution.                  Born in Wayne, Pennsylvania, Swift worked in Pittsburgh before moving to Maryland and beginning a 30 year career in teaching and staff development for Montgomery County Public Schools.  Being a teacher, Swift says, was a “calling felt when I was 16 years old.”
He adds, “Every job I have ever had, including my volunteer work, has engaged me in educating people, helping people. I am very happy that I can use God’s gifts to serve others.”
Steve Head ShotSwift wears many hats at the Washington DC Studio. He reads. He quality checks. And he reps the organization at special occasions such as last year’s Capitol Hill visit by Learning Ally students from Ohio lobbying Congress on behalf of dyslexia legislation. “The work is very important,” he says,”…we must keep in mind that we are opening new worlds for students of every age throughout the country.” To other Learning Ally “The work is very important,” he says, "we must keep in mind that we are opening new worlds for students of every age throughout the country.” To other Learning Ally volunteers, Swift reminds that “our work engages students in great literature, complex mathematics texts, theories in psychology and a myriad of other disciplines. What could be more satisfying than that?”   If you are interested in volunteering for Learning Ally, please visit LearningAlly.org/Volunteer today. Read More about Theater, a Microphone, and a Gift of Giving Back

From Struggling Reader to Neuropsychologist: Dr John Mather Offers Advice to Families
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February 21, 2017 by Mir Ali

Guest Blog by Dr. John Mather, Learning Ally's Specialist of the Month  Girl with sign saying I specialize in evaluating and diagnosing a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders. However, I have studied the neurology of reading disorders extensively and specialize in diagnosing the various forms of dyslexia and helping patients and their families identify appropriate remedial resources. I got into the field because I, myself, struggled with reading and writing and wanted to better understand the neural mechanisms behind my own difficulties. From there, I wanted to do whatever I could professionally to identify children with dyslexia early in childhood so that meaningful and targeted interventions could be implemented to mitigate the impact of the disorder on their lives.
The most rewarding aspect of my work is seeing a patient smile when told they are, in fact, very intelligent and that their reading difficulties/differences are a manifestation of brain differences, not deficiencies. 
Seeing patients again have hope regarding their ability to become a proficient reader is a very powerful moment. Finally, I most enjoy hearing from the families, months or even years after an evaluation, and being told that the patient is enjoying reading and is a much more confident and happy person! Any parent who is concerned that their child may have a reading or learning disability needs to have their child evaluated. Neurologically speaking, time is of the essence. The earlier a child can be identified, the more likely that scientifically based interventions will result in long-lasting and positive neurological change. Teen College GirlI would recommend parents find an experienced professional who understands and is able to evaluate the various neurocognitive processes that underlie reading and can diagnose dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia.  It is NOT too early to have a 5-year-old evaluated for dyslexia. Given that dyslexia has a neurological basis, individuals with dyslexia manifest the neurocognitive features of the disorder early in childhood and a skilled practitioner can identify this in children as young as five years old. Finally, begin remedial reading therapies as early as possible for best outcomes. I recommend Learning Ally to ALL my patients with reading and writing disorders.  Learning Ally allows individuals with dyslexia access to literature that they otherwise may not have access to due to their reading differences.
Additionally, Learning Ally is actually therapeutic in that it works the neural systems related to reading including left to right visual tracking and symbolic identification through highlighting the text as the words are read. Left to right tracking and symbolic naming are foundational neurocognitive process in reading. 
Using Learning Ally also promotes the development of an individual’s orthographic repertoire and, therefore, will enhance reading fluency.  So not only does Learning Ally provide access to books for struggling readers, but it actually supports the development of the neural systems that underlie reading. Paperback with audio deviceAbout the author: Dr. John Mather is Learning Ally's February 2017 Specialist of the Month. Mather is also a neuropsychologist and a school psychologist. He has worked in the field of school psychology for more than 15 years and has been a neuropsychologist for approximately 10 years. Currently, he has a private practice in Mesa, Arizona, Trilogy Psychological Services, LLC Read More about From Struggling Reader to Neuropsychologist: Dr John Mather Offers Advice to Families

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