April 20, 2017

Specialist Spotlight: Dawn Philbin, Speech Language Pathologist

In April 2017, we are highlighting Dawn Philbin who is a partner and the Director of Education at True Potential Education, LLC. Dawn’s story is fascinating as she has also discovered that she shows signs of dyslexia, herself.

Here’s her story, presented in her own words.

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Dawn with Short Blond HairWhen I was in my teens, I babysat for a young child who was deaf and used sign language to communicate.  I took it upon myself to learn enough sign language to communicate with her, which I found very intriguing.  I eventually enrolled in the Speech-Language Pathology program at NMSU (now better known as Truman State) and have found this line of work to be a very challenging and fulfilling career.

Throughout my career, I have often encountered students who have many of the same struggles I had in school.  I was not a fast processor, and I often struggled with comprehension and word recall. I did not do well on standardized tests and found it difficult to study with peers in high school and in college. As I have encountered students with Language-based Learning Disabilities, I feel a very strong emotional connection to them, I understand where they have been.

While my disabilities were never diagnosed when I was in school, I am certain now that I was working to overcome dyslexia and dysnomia, and I am still impacted daily by both of these language-based learning disabilities in my personal and professional life.

The most rewarding aspect of my career is seeing a student unlock the mystery of codes and patterns of language so they can begin to read and write successfully.  The progress I see in them, and more importantly the progress they can see in themselves, is the greatest reward there could ever be.  Rebuilding a student’s confidence in themselves is a gift unlike any other that can be given.  I consider myself blessed just to have an opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of students and families.

Advice for Others

The best advice I can offer to parents who believe their student may be struggling with reading, writing or language is to act.  Do not wait for a student to “mature,” or for language to “click” for them.  When a student is young, parents have the opportunity to intervene before social and emotional issues begin to impact the student.

To this day, I remember being in elementary math class and the teacher making me wear a “spool necklace.” The necklace was made of old, empty, ugly, thread spools strung together on a string which I was supposed to wear it around my neck; moving the spools to help me do my addition and subtraction facts.

The embarrassment and shame that I felt then is as raw to me today as it was then.  

In hindsight, my teacher was trying to give me a multi-sensory tool to learn with, and that is a good thing.  But I didn’t understand that at the time, and the emotional scar of remembering what it was like to feel dumb in front of my peers, is something that has shaped the rest of my life.

There is simply no substitute for appropriate intervention that is introduced early.  So much can be taught if we aggressively seek appropriate instruction for our children and students.  If repeat exposure is not going to be sufficient for a student to learn, waiting for time to pass and language to happen “magically” is never the best answer.  Parents need to advocate bravely for their children and heed their instincts regarding their child’s learning.

Audiobooks Can Help

At True Potential Education, we identify and remediate language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Our students are intelligent, eager to learn, and crave knowledge! If our students are limited to only information they can access by reading, we are doing them a huge disservice!  By encouraging audiobooks on Learning Ally, we are opening the wonderful world of fiction and non-fiction to them.

Audiobooks work to develop content knowledge, build robust vocabularies, increase confidence, allow our students to participate socially in discussions about popular books, and much more.

We will never know the full scope of benefits of introducing our students to audiobooks because it is not a quantifiable quality, but we do know that they are significant in breadth and depth!  We also are grateful for the awareness and educational activities that Learning Ally provides to parents and professionals.

Learning Ally LogoDawn is Learning Ally’s April 2017 Specialist of the Month. To find out more about Learning Ally, a national nonprofit service people with dyslexia or visual impairment,  visit LearningAlly.org. To find out more about Dawn, visit her website TruePotentialEd.com

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– Jules Johnson


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