Working with a person with a learning disability (LD) can be a priceless experience, nurturing his or her growth in learning and self-confidence, and giving you the opportunity to demonstrate self-giving love and acceptance as you support the person. Special education teachers, school-based speech-language pathologists (SLPs), and learning disability teacher consultants (LDTCs) may also honor people with learning disabilities – in ways that go beyond the call of duty.
With that in mind, here are 10 ways any school-based therapist or those working in special education jobs can honor children and adolescents with learning disabilities, and grow in experiential knowledge as a byproduct of the effort.
- Attend an Event or Seminar on a Subject that Interests You — There are plenty of seminars on a variety of topics that can open your eyes to new teaching methods, activities, classroom/therapy strategies and much more. With a little research, you may find events in your area that do not require much travel or overnight hotel stays. Check your state’s affiliate chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) or other resources, such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities at www.ncld.org.
- Read or Listen to a First-Hand Account from a Person with a Learning Disability —“Walking in another person’s shoes” fosters empathy and understanding especially concerning those who may be judged and/or misunderstood. As a school-based SLP, LDTC or special education teacher, you will be more effective when you better understand the way your students think, learn and view the world. Every person’s experience with a disability is unique, and you have the opportunity to learn about (and encounter) truly amazing people with incredible stories. Here are several reading recommendations:
- Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin has been called “the first picture of autism from the inside.” This book by a gifted scientist is an honest account of how the author feels, thinks and experiences the world. It is truly a document of an extraordinary human being. Grandin has also written several other books, including The Autistic Brain: Helping Different Kinds of Minds Succeed, The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s: 32 New Subjects, Emergence: Labeled Autistic and several others.
- Count Us In: Growing Up with Down Syndrome by Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz provides a glimpse into the lives of two lifelong friends, ages 19 and 22 respectively. With great courage, humor and honesty, they discuss what matters most in their lives including friendships, school, careers, and marriage. This book received an EDI Award from the National Easter Seal Society and is appropriate for Young Adult curriculum.
- Looking for Heroes: One Boy, One Year, 100 Letters by Aidan Colvin is a true story about dyslexic high school student Aidan Colvin, who wrote 100 letters to successful dyslexics. Not expecting anyone to respond, he is genuinely surprised when people do! The book features letters from writer John Irving, comedian Jay Leno, Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, Cleveland Clinic surgeon and CEO Delos Cosgrove, and others.
- A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures is the autobiographical memoir of Quinn Bradlee, creator of the interactive and inspirational website friendsofquinn.com. Bradlee was born with a hole in his heart and later diagnosed with Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome (VCFS). His book is an honest, oft humorous and ultimately uplifting account of growing up as learning-disabled child.
- Volunteer Your Services — While you are able to witness the incredible progress your students and patients, what about those who don’t have access to the services you provide…or are unaware that such services exist? Volunteering your time can help bring much-needed intervention to children and even adults who would otherwise not be able to benefit. If you can spare the time and are willing to share your talents, seek out opportunities to give back!
- Share your Strategies and Resources with Other Professionals — If you have ideas swirling around your head that could benefit others, why not start a Pinterest Board dedicated to your profession? Invite others to follow you, and follow them in return to contribute to a virtual community of shared knowledge. Or, consider starting a blog or becoming a guest writer for a blog topic that’s important to you.
- Connect with a Colleague New to the Field — Whether just starting out or a veteran in the field, your experience is valuable. Communicating with others in your practice is essential for your professional growth and the students you serve. This can be particularly important on difficult days. The encouragement of a fellow colleague who has been there may be just what someone needs to feel refreshed and ready to take on tomorrow.
- Speak Words of Encouragement to a Parent — Parents don’t want to see their child struggle, but LDTC, SLP and special education teacher professionals are well-equipped to help with learning differences. When times are rough and progress seems slow, kind and encouraging words from a kind-hearted professional can make a parent’s day — giving a boost to the strength they need. Insight into your experience, plus knowledge of all that really is possible for children with learning disabilities, is strong medicine!
- Plan an Outing with Team Members — whether it’s a quick lunch, bowling night or casual cocktails, set aside time to enjoy camaraderie among your colleagues. You don’t have to talk shop the entire time, but sharing war stories and successes can bring perspective to your struggles and validate your hard work.
- Donate or Sign Up for a Fundraising Event — There are so many causes related to furthering awareness and providing services to those with a learning disability! Pick a favorite (or two) and give what you can – or sign up for a fundraising event to help support an important cause.
- Become a Member of a New Organization — Membership has its privileges! Joining an organization devoted to helping those with learning disabilities means you stay “in-the-know,” with information delivered right to your mail or email box, as well as other perks.
- Leverage Your Influence — As an expert in the field, you’re in a unique position to raise awareness! Take a moment this week to educate others in person, through social media, newsletters, articles, etc.
By further educating ourselves, we can help foster environments that allow our students and patients to grow, flourish and reach their full potential.
Do you have ideas that would help honor those with learning disabilities? Please share in the comment section below!