empowerment

You are 9 years old. It’s Monday morning. You walk into class and see a tall man with glasses instead of your teacher, Mrs. Taylor. You see a fat folder of paper handouts sitting on his desk. 

You take a deep breath, march to the front of the room, and introduce yourself to the new sub. You pull a worn ID card from your pocket that tells him you are dyslexic and lists, on the back, the key components of your IEP. 

The sub pauses for a moment and takes it in. Understanding, he nods and hands you back the card, before going to his desk and emailing you a PDF of the handout.

You take a seat, open your laptop and get ready to ear-read along with the rest of the class. 

Dyslexia ID card
 
Because of the work of Dr. John Frauenheim, this kind of stuff actually happens. 
 
Dr. Frauenheim caught our eye when we learned about an unusual support strategy offered by the Center where he works: personalized dyslexia identification cards that help students a way to explain their dyslexic identity and self-advocate for what they need in class. Before dyslexics are able to confidently tell their story, in their own words, without props, we can imagine how a signifier like this could be extremely helpful, especially in the early years. 
 
Dr. John Frauenheim is the Associate Director at the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital in Berkley, Michigan. There he provides multidisciplinary assessments and treatments/strategies to the dyslexic and LD community.
 
We were curious about what other ideas and insights Dr. Frauenheim might have for us so we sent him a list of questions about his experiences. 
 
Dr. Frauenheim answered, naturally, from a medical perspective. While this perspective differs slightly in how it talks about dyslexia, the shared emphasis on community and self-advocacy as key stepping stones to being an empowered dyslexic is very encouraging. Go team.
 
Read on for highlights from our interview. Thank you Dr. Frauenheim!
 
Note: All links and bolded text have been added by Headstrong Nation. :)
 


Headstrong Nation: You've mentioned that you selectively give individuals with dyslexia a card that identifies them as experiencing difficulty with reading and spelling. Tell us the history behind the card. 
 
Dr. John Frauenheim: As one simple step toward self-assertiveness and empowerment we give dyslexic individuals an ID card that identifies them as experiencing dyslexia and looks rather official, i.e., hospital title and signed by a licensed psychologist. We do this for elementary school aged children as well as adolescents and young adults. 
 
The use of the card can be very helpful at all of these levels. Elementary students, for example, will at times write the elements of their IEP on the back of the card to be able to present to teachers when they make a request for accommodations.  
 
It can be very helpful, for example, when a substitute teacher comes in and wants students to individually read aloud in class. The dyslexic student can produce their card quickly and ask to be excused from that activity. The card can also be helpful for college students, for example, when they have a need to discuss certain issues or accommodations with an instructor. The card breaks the ice and allows for meaningful discussion. 
 
We have had others where a formal statement given had to be signed, i.e., in the police department, and they are uncomfortable with what the printed version of their comments state. Examples are endless. The availability of an ID card for dyslexic individuals was something we saw a need for 25 years ago. The card has been in use since that time and, to my knowledge, we are the only facility that utilizes this particular support strategy.
 
HN: What kind of changes have you seen in the medical community around dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities?
 
JF: Cases of dyslexia have been well-documented for over 100 years. Research has steadily increased to a level where we now have a much greater understanding of dyslexia and how it impacts life. This has led to a growing awareness in the medical community.  
 
Schools, however, have been slow to recognize dyslexia, feeling that it is some type of "medical condition." 
 
On the plus side, programs for children with learning differences have improved over the years. Most recently, at least here in Michigan, school districts are approaching the concept of learning differences within the context of a "response to intervention" (RTI) approach, which implies that a young child in elementary school, where problems are noted, should have appropriate resource strategies available to them to address those concerns. 
 
The importance of understanding dyslexia includes the fact that it is more than simply an eye-reading problem. We frequently note, for example, an extension into the area of math where dyslexic individuals find it difficult to memorize basic math facts, such as the times tables, that can impact functioning. 
 
There is a frequent finding associated with immediate auditory memory/working memory that may affect the consistency with which one retains directions, multitasking, etc.  More subtle language issues have also been described such as naming, word finding, and language organization, or the expression of ideas in an organized fashion.  Spelling, of course, is affected with further impact on written expression.
 
HN: How important is early identification?
 
JF: Early identification, of course, is important. It may be difficult to specifically identify a very young person as experiencing dyslexia; however, risk factors should be closely examined and where there is some difficulty experienced, then appropriate intervention should be provided.  
 
Dyslexia does not go away. It does, however, present on a continuum that may range from severe to least severe. At the severe end of the continuum, we see adults whose eye-reading skills have not progressed above an elementary level. These individuals are often ignored in the literature on learning differences/dyslexia.
 
Specific treatment for dyslexic individuals must be approached along at least four avenues:
 
1. Specialized instruction in language arts areas should be provided utilizing appropriate and well-documented evidence-based strategies such as the Orton-Gillingham Method.
 
2. We must introduce assistive technologies* very early in a child's education. As we work at improving eye-reading skills, we also provide ways to work around the interference of skill weaknesses. 
 
Textbooks, for example, should be made available through some type of audio format to assist with reading fluency and, subsequently, comprehension (e.g. Learning Ally, Bookshare). The use of a computer with word processing becomes important with regard to written expressive language activities. Other computer programs that are available include those that allow for dictation as well as provide reading assistance. Another example would be the Intel Reader.
 
*Check out Headstrong Nation's Tools page page for a list of current assistive technologies. 
 
3. We must review curriculum requirements as they might impact the dyslexic individual.  The learning of a foreign language, for example, in the presence of dyslexia tends to be quite difficult. The frequent recommendation is to waive such requirements. Some school districts will allow sign language to replace a formal language requirement. The waiving of a foreign language can be accomplished even at the college level in many instances. Other accommodations, such as increased time for testing becomes important. Oral testing should be allowed as indicated, etc.
 
4. Universally, young dyslexic individuals entertain the notion of being "dumb." They compare themselves with their peers and/or siblings and realize that they are not achieving at the same level, which produces concern. They worry that they are not meeting the expectations of significant others. Early efforts at assisting in understanding dyslexia and how it impacts functioning are very important.  
 
Dyslexic individuals need to become "experts" and learn how to appropriately assert themselves in terms of the accommodations that will be meaningful for them. Empowerment starts at an early age. It is extremely important to assure that success experiences occur both academically and non-academically.
 
HN: We believe that finding community and being honest about one's dyslexia is the key to becoming empowered. How do you support individuals that are struggling with coming to terms with their dyslexia?
 
JF: Recognizing that one has dyslexia is the key to becoming empowered.  
 
In our setting we provide "demystification" sessions for those with a diagnosis of dyslexia and at times ongoing counseling to assist in looking at compensatory strategies and to address other issues related to self-concept. 
 
It also becomes very important for "significant others" to have a full understanding of dyslexia. This not only includes parents, but also grandparents and others in the community where dyslexia may impact functioning, i.e., religious lessons, etc. At times, we offer small group counseling sessions for students with dyslexia to be able to learn from one another strategies that have been helpful. 
 
Ongoing peer mentoring should be available. In the past we have had group counseling sessions for dyslexic adults. This has been extremely helpful as, in adulthood, dyslexics find themselves generally to be quite isolated, not knowing others, etc., and feeling that they lack any "power" to change life circumstances. 
 
The areas of self-concept and empowerment must be addressed on an ongoing basis.
 
Dr. John Frauenheim
Dr. John Frauenheim
Associate Director, Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital, Berkley, MI 
 

Hillside School Dyslexia Talk

Learn about the dyselxia empowerment framework and meet others like you at Headstrong Nation founder Ben Foss's upcoming talk in Boulder, Colorado. Ben will speaking on February 4th at 7pm at the Boulder Theater, courtesy of Hillside School. Tickets are $12 and all ages encouraged to attend. Get your ticket here!

Mayu is a middle-schooler, empowered dyslexic and one of many students who is realizing that their voice matters. Here he tells us why joining the dyselxia movement matters to him. 

The first step to being empowered is owning your story. Don't forget to watch Headstrong Founder Ben Foss and Mayu discuss how to tell your story and connect others to your experience. 

An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, and when you're dyslexic, it can be the key to carving out your ideal pathway to learning while you are at school. Kids have the legal right to be at their own IEP but, more importantly, it gives them a chance to learn how to self-advocate. Watch Headstrong found Ben Foss & Mayu discuss why and what to know before you go. And don't forget to check out our other video about the key factors that will help you tell your dyslexia story

Short. Truthful. Memorable. And polished. Learn how to tell you story and connect the world to your experience as a dyslexic. 

Watch Ben, Amber, and Mayu talk discuss how to tell a good story and learn why Mayu started levitating...

Socrates, shame and how to be an empowered dyslexic. Listen to Headstrong Nation founder Ben Foss as he chats with Dr. Richard Selznick, author of The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child" & "School Struggles. 

Listen To Education Internet Radio Stations with The Coffee Klatch on BlogTalkRadio

Ella

We received this essay from a middle-schooler named Ella about a particularly difficult experience she had as a dyslexic. It is hard to read, but it gives us an important glimpse inside a world that many people do not understand or have chosen to forget. Ella has since gone on to become her own best advocate and is currently attending a school which specializes in dyslexia and LD identities. Keep fighting, Ella. 


I’m sitting in the back of the classroom. I raise my hand high. My teacher does not call on me. There are 48 kids in my class. Then a young girl walked into the classroom and said “Is Ella here?” I got up and went outside to her. 

There were 3 kids there. Their names were Meadow, Nigel and my best friend Emma. One of the kids in my class yelled out, “That is for retarded kids only.” I felt empty and sad. Was I retarded? “No,” I said. My face became red as all 48 kids looked at me as I walked away into another classroom.

I walked into the room and felt angry and I sat down at a desk and had to read a fluency packet. Then we had to get up to level 7 and I was on 2. 

I walked back to class and sat back down at my real desk back with all 48 kids. The teacher gave everyone a huge book. The teacher called my name. I started to read the sentence. I stumbled over words and skipped the words I could not read. I looked up and everyone stared at me with a strange look on their faces. I felt my eyes starting to water. My friend beside me said “just ignore the class.” I kept reading. Then the words became blurry then the words went dark. 

The teacher said “Sam it’s your turn.” I heard him read and he didn’t even mess up. I felt stupid. When school was over a student came up to me and said. “Why do you read so slow?” I felt my tears trying to burst out. I breathed in and out and said, “Why do you care?” 

I walked away slowly and felt upset and mad and wondered if I hurt his feelings by saying “Why do you care?” I wanted to apologize but I couldn't I was crying too much. I ran into the bathroom and sat on the ground. Then my three friends walked into the bathroom and asked me why I was crying. I lied and said because I hurt my knee. I lied because I didn’t want them to think I was dumb. I lied because I was embarrassed. I heard my mom call my name so I ran out of the bathroom pretending to look happy as we drove home to my two sisters waiting for me.

Ella is a seventh-grade student who recently shared her story with us. 

Ben Foss

Sign up for Headstrong Founder Ben Foss's upcoming webinar on dyslexia empoweremnt. Learning Ally will be hosting the webinar free for all members. Ben will be covering much of the framework that he builds in his book: understanding the myths, identification, strenghts not shame, and building community.

If you are already a Learning Ally member, this is no-brainer! Not a member? Learn more here.

Learning Ally is a nationa non-profit that provides people with access to thousands of audio titles through their monthly membership. Originally conceived of as Recording for the Blind, Learning Ally serves a much broader audience today—hello ear-readers!

 

We don’t build fighter plane cockpits for the average pilot. Why do we build schools this way?

High school dropout turned Harvard faculty Todd Rose talks about how to nurture individual potential.

Watch here or visit Tedx.

Brett Kopf is the CEO and co-founder of Remind 101, a communications solution for teachers, students, and parents. He shares his journey with The Next Web on becoming a successful dyslexic entrepreneur below. If you've got 4 minutes, it's definitely worth a listen.

Read the printed article here.

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