Parents and educators look for ways to understand learning disab - DatelineCarolina

Parents and educators look for ways to understand learning disabilities

“Being understood. That’s what we all want, right? Every child wants to be  understood,” said Molly Spearman, the South Carolina Superintendent of Education. She said this event was important for everyone: parents, educators and policy makers. “Being understood. That’s what we all want, right? Every child wants to be understood,” said Molly Spearman, the South Carolina Superintendent of Education. She said this event was important for everyone: parents, educators and policy makers.
Heidi Reppert, left, and Lissa Felzer both have children with learning disabilities. They came to the Understanding the 1 in 5 forum Tuesday night in Columbia to learn about resources available to parents who have kids with learning disabilities. Heidi Reppert, left, and Lissa Felzer both have children with learning disabilities. They came to the Understanding the 1 in 5 forum Tuesday night in Columbia to learn about resources available to parents who have kids with learning disabilities.
Jacqueline Williams, parent and advocate, fought for medication for her son. Jayden, 8, had open-heart surgery when he was 3 years old. He was diagnosed with ADHD about a year and a half later. Jayden was reading three weeks after taking his medication. Jacqueline Williams, parent and advocate, fought for medication for her son. Jayden, 8, had open-heart surgery when he was 3 years old. He was diagnosed with ADHD about a year and a half later. Jayden was reading three weeks after taking his medication.

By Andrew Martin

What’s the best way to connect to my students who have learning disabilities? How can I get my child to believe he is just as smart as his peers? What can I do to help my child connect with other kids in his class?

These questions were among those asked during the "Understanding the 1 in 5" forum hosted Tuesday in Columbia by Understood, a non-profit resource that connects families dealing with child and adolescent learning issues with experts in the field.

The forum was designed to help parents, educators and policy makers learn more about the one-in-five children who have learning and attention issues in South Carolina. More than 100 people showed up for the event, more than in any other state, organizers said.

“This discussion is critically important for all of us,” said Molly Spearman, S.C. Superintendent of Education. “It’s important for us as parents that we understand - for us as educators that we have the support that we need as we work with our children. This discussion is important to policy makers as we help them understand the unique situation of all of our students.”

In South Carolina the number of children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. has risen from 9.5 percent in 2007 to 11.7 percent in 2011. South Carolina ranks fifth highest in the nation with children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. as of 2011, according to research collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Robin Young worked for 25 years as a middle school special education resource teacher. Young said her school integrated students who had learning disabilities into regular academic classes.

“They liked not being pulled out for reading and math,” Young said. “They want to be in with their peers, especially in middle school, as often and as much as possible.”

Young, now retired but working as a private tutor, said she has used resources from Understood in the past to learn how to better teach her students. She plans to use more of the resources available online to teach her students.

For others, the event was their first exposure to Understood and its resources.

Heidi Reppert’s son, Alex, has dyslexia.

“Dyslexia isn’t something you can see,” said Reppert. “It’s not like a physical handicap where everybody knows you have it.”

Ann Whitten, Vice President of Learning Disabilities Association of South Carolina,  described dyslexia as a learning disability that makes it harder for children to read. Other effects include difficulties in spelling, writing and speaking.  

The International Dyslexia Association estimates that as many as 15 to 20 percent of the population nationwide have some symptoms of dyslexia. 

Whitten would like South Carolina to make a commitment to "not allow our children to leave elementary school without the ability to read grade level material.”

“For the kids I work with the biggest challenge is reading,” said Whitten. “If you can’t read all doors of learning are pretty much shut to you.”

Three of Lissa Felzer’s four children have some form of learning disabilities.

Felzer pulled one of her children, 6-year-old Garrett, out of school. She now home schools him because she believes the public school he was in didn’t have the resources to accommodate his learning disability. The child showed improvement shortly after with one-on-one attention, she said.

For children and parents in attendance, the Understood forum was a place where they could see they were not alone in their struggles. Learning disabilities can be an isolating condition, so to see that there are others with the same struggles can provide those with a learning disability some comfort, Whitten said. 

"Thanks to the work of incredible researchers, experts, teachers and parents across the country, we know that with the right academic, social and emotional supports, and a great advocate in their corner, kids with learning and attention issues can really thrive in school and in life," Whitten said. 

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