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If you need an inspirational story to share with children about learning differences or anxiety:
Gifted students who also have specific learning differences are at significant risk for frustration and being mis-educated. Dr. Brad Reedy and I explore the risks for mental health problems and what to do to minimize risk and encourage mental health.
Being asked to read out loud in class, especially unexpectedly, can cause fear and anxiety among our kids. It triggers stress and can contribute to accumulating trauma when not supported by best practices.
In “A Light Within My Dyslexia” (available on Amazon) we meet up with Beaver the bright and inventive main character as he navigates the daily ups and downs of living with dyslexia.
“Jackrabbit was trying to answer a question that Teacher had asked, but next to him Beaver was busy trying to ?nd his notebook and pen. He was scattering things from his schoolbag onto the ground. Everything spilled out but his notebook and pen (which were lying hidden underneath the pile of grass and twigs he was using for a seat). Out fell sticks and tree sap, pine nuts and sketches, and a stone he’d used for a hammer. Teacher was getting a little annoyed at this distraction (as was Jackrabbit), and she spoke directly to Beaver. “Beaver, since you’re so good at making us pay attention to you and your…hmm…?ddling around, perhaps you’d be so kind as to read the question on the board, out loud.”
Beaver’s body and brain were now shocked into alertness. “Read out loud?” That was his worst nightmare. Beaver was smart, but when it came to reading, that was another story. Reading was hard for him, slower than most of the others. He never liked being put on the spot like this. He felt more nervous and scared than usual because of his missing pen and notebook. “Stupid pen,” he muttered. His pen was obviously hiding among his supplies (“all his junk” as his father sometimes called his important things.) Beaver knew in his bones there was little chance he would escape this present situation unharmed.
“Uh, um…yeah,…ok,” he stammered. He looked at the board. He could see the letters of course, but they didn’t really assemble themselves into helpful patterns. Owl, the old wise one of the village, had once told Beaver and his parents that Beaver “has trouble with phonics.” But all Beaver understood was that he couldn’t catch on as quickly as the other kids when it came to reading and spelling. So here he was, staring at the board and the words on them.”
Here’s the excerpt in what I title “Rockets and Rocks.”
Everyone has a learning profile. It means we all have some strengths. Some are obvious and some are hidden. Having a learning profile also means we have areas that don’t come easily for us, and are hard. Put these two things together and call them strengths and weaknesses, or strengths and challenges. I like to think of them as rockets and rocks.
Rockets are the things that help you rise up. They’re parts of you that give you a feeling of strength. Rocks on the other hand, can get in the way. If your rocks, your struggles are big enough, especially when you’re going uphill, we sometimes feel defeated. Our rocks can seem like quite the obstacle. But they can be useful in the long run.
Everyone has some rockets and some rocks. For some kids a rocket might be that you’re good at building or that you have really good understanding of word meanings and a strong vocabulary. It could be anything really, music, art. And your rock could be struggling to easily read or spell words that you totally know the meanings of. Does that make sense? Think about it.
Some people who grow up to be great story tellers and writers struggle with spelling. Some mix up syllables when trying to pronounce a long and complicated word. People can be smart and creative, but they have these rocks too. Rocks make you work a little harder to get over or around them. That can make you stronger. In fact, lots of successful people who have learning differences say they learned to work harder because of their rocks, their school challenges. Learning to work hard has been an important part of their success.
Getting back up after a fall or a stumble is called “resilience.” Scientists who study success tell us that children who develop resilience are happier and accomplish more in their lives. I have noticed that learning to rise up after a fall or challenge has given me more control over my own life. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?
Other times rocks can just be a pain. There’s no two ways about it. Learning to deal with the frustration of rocks can become a strength. Sometimes, if you look in the right way, a weakness might be covering up strength. For example, some people I know who have a hard time remembering the order of letters when spelling or who have a hard time remembering the sequence of steps to solve a math problem, are good at creative problem-solving. Sequence means going step by step, from A to B to C to D, etc. On the other hand, creative problem-solving means thinking of the problem and the solution in new ways, like going from A to D, or C to G to B. I’ve met kids and adults who aren’t the fastest readers of books, but who are great at “reading people.” Understanding people is a super important skill. You might have messy looking handwriting and be a wonderful painter or builder.
My advice? Work hard on things that are difficult, but remember to spend time on the things you are good at, that you love to do. It’s a balance. So if you have struggles with reading or spelling, if you have dyslexia, or even if you don’t, remember that if you keep looking, you can find the things you are good at. It takes time to discover your core gift, and your “light within.” Sean (the illustrator of this book) and I wish you the best. You or your parents can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d love to hear about your stories and rocket discoveries!
Children with learning disabilities and even mild learning differences are often under-served, mis-educated and marginalized. Rates of depression, anxiety and trauma are much higher for these children as they become teens snd young adults. In this article from The Hill dot com in rec0gnition of October being Dyslexic and LD Awareness month, confront these troubling issues about the wounding of our children and teens with LD. Children and teens who simply have variations in their learning profile are the longstanding canaries in our institutional coal mines. The problem is that hardly anyone hears their cries. Worse still are the additional disparities in treatment, for children of color. Children of color are misdiagnosed and mis-treated in schools and treatment centers at alarmingly higher percentages. Learning better ways to see and treat our children with learning variations helps all children and struggling teens.
Research on childhood anxiety is clear: The most effective treatment for our kids is parent training. Parent training in the right way; offering tools and perspectives that strengthen and support our children, without weakening them through over-accommodating their anxious behaviors.
All parent want to help their children feel better. But the ways in which parents (and caregivers) are wired to protect their children can unwittingly reinforce a child’s own self-limiting beliefs. When our own nervous systems are hijacked by our children’s anxiety, we can do and say the wrong things. And in doing so, we signal to the child that their imagined threats are real. This is what encourages, accelerates, and perpetuates a child’s anxiety.
Spring Washam a noted meditation teacher, recently taught me more about how we can be “imprisoned in our own minds”: a mind-made prison created by self-limiting beliefs from our own unique wounds of childhood. Unexamined, they limit our reach and connection to our children, especially as they struggle and meet obstacles. Ms, Washam teaches, among many other topics, on the life and strength of Harriet Tubman. Known for her leadership and bravery with the Underground Railroad, Harriet was also a champion, role model and teacher of freeing one’s mind of self-imprisonment. In effect she voiced “They may try and break me, they may lock me up, but am I a slave? Hell no. I am free.” Nelson Mandela spoke of this years later.
If we want to unburden and free our children of anxious thoughts and beliefs it’s crucial that we examine our own beliefs and triggers about what our children are capable of and when and how we protect. With therapy and/or training it’s vital we explore the anxious parts of our own minds and hearts, which are often triggered when our kids are struggling and in anxious distress.
In fables, myth and adventure lies the power to evoke resilience in our children and our selves. Because…we’re… never…too…old….
Fables, myths, and tales of adventure have held a power to remind us of the human condition. For more than a thousand years, across lands and cultures, they’ve evoked in us our universal questions, our sacred selves and an enduring power to prevail during the toughest of times.
Children’s stories hold a special value, often in their simplicity. And when we read them to our children, the doors to our our own imaginations open.
During these times of uncertainty…Because we’re never too old.
In this excerpt from my new book ‘A Light Within My Dyslexia’ Bear and Turtle counsel a distraught Beaver about individual “Core Gifts,” following one’s dreams, and the power of collaboration and connection.
-As Beaver’s tears began to fall, Fred and Sam began speaking. They took turns but spoke almost as one voice… ”Beaver, fear not. We’ve seen you. We see things you don’t realize yet. For all your struggles…we see your talents and the ways that you are so important. Your dreams are your golden light and this light is your gift and power.”
…By now Beaver was fully listening. But he was still upset. So he asked, “What good is it if I can’t finish the job and the town washes away?”
…Fred piped up. “You’re missing an important part of most solutions. For one thing, you’re missing a team. You make a mistake that many of us do. You are trying to do this alone. Who can you ask for help?”