Rebroadcast - Exploring Education: Learning Disabilities

Aug 26, 2019

What distinguishes a learning disability, and what accomodations are available? How do schools, teachers, and students approach learning disabilities, and how have philosophies and strategies changed? What are the challenges students and their educators and parents continue to face?

This show originally aired on August 5, 2019. 

GUESTS:

  • Bonnie Dunham - Special education law and policy specialist at the N.H. Parent Information Center on Special Education
  • Kristina Scott - President of the Board of Directors for the NH Learning Disabilities Association, assistant professor of childhood education at Salem State in Massachusetts. 
  • Jocelyn Lister - Speech language pathologist and reading specialist at Windham Center School.
  • Tracey Crain - Special education case manager at the Dondero School in Portsmouth for kindergarten through second grade, where she works primarily with students with learning disabilities, high-functioning autism, and speech and language impairments. 

Watch the program:

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
This hour, we continue our summer series on public education in New Hampshire. Each Monday, we're focusing on a different subject concerning students, teachers and schools. Our topics were chosen with help from you, our listeners. Today, we're talking about learning disabilities, an issue many of you said you wanted to hear about. We'll look at the latest research and philosophies around this and how they're informing the approach schools take with students who don't learn the traditional way. Of course, we want to hear from you. Our e-mail exchange at nhpr.org. Once again, exchange at nhpr.org. Use Facebook or Twitter @nhprexchange or call in 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
Our show is also on Facebook live today. So you can watch and listen if you'd like our guests in studio. Our Bonnie Dunham, special education law and policy specialist at the Parent Information Center, a family organization. And Bonnie, it's always nice to see you. Thank you for being here.

Bonnie Dunham:
Oh, and thank you for having me.

Bonnie Dunham:
Also with us, Jocelyn Lister, speech language pathologist with the Windham School District. And Jocelyn, thank you for taking the time out.

Jocelyn Lister:
Thanks. You're very welcome.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us, Tracey Crain Elementary School special education case manager with the Dunn Darrow School in Portsmouth. And Tracey , thank you for coming over. I appreciate it. Good morning.

Tracey Crain:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us, Kristina Scott, president of the board of directors for the New Hampshire Learning Disabilities Association and a professor of education at Salem State University, Massachusetts. And Kristina, it's really nice to meet you. Thank you for being here.

Kristina Scott:
Thank you. Happy to be here.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'll start with you, Kristina. But I hear from everybody. What is a learning disability and what isn't? Because I think there's some confusion around what that really means.

Kristina Scott:
So if we go and look federally, we have 14 disability categories and learning disability falls into this specific learning disability category. And in the specific learning disability category, what we're looking at is, is a student struggling and one academic area. But overall, their IQ is average or above average. And the three main specific learning disabilities we have are dyscalculia or dyscalculia. Sometimes people call it that. It's the disability in math. We have dyslexia, which we hear a lot about, which is the disability in reading. And then we have dysgraphia, which is the disability in writing. So those are the three main ones. Others kind of creep in like dyspraxia or auditory processing disorder, some categorize those and different federal categories. But in some school districts may categorize that as a specific learning disability as well.

Laura Knoy:
Well, that's really interesting, Kristina. So there's a lot in there, but there's a lot not in there. So what do you typically hear from from people who say, isn't that a learning disability? And I have to say, no, it's not.

Kristina Scott:
I think people think learning disabilities just is a struggle with learning in general where that's not really the specific learning disability category itself. So you can have struggles with learning and have it be ADHD, which is a struggle in learning, but it's not in the specific learning disability category. It be classified that's classified in the federal category as other health impairment. So you can have struggles and learning, but not have them fall into that specific line disability.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting. So attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a what did you call it, a health. It's called it falls under the other health impairment category. It impairs you from learning, but in and of itself is not a learning disability.

Kristina Scott:
Yeah.

Laura Knoy:
Really interesting. Bonnie, go ahead.

Bonnie Dunham:
One of the things that we hear from families that can be confusing is the difference between a diagnosis with dyslexia, for example, and eligibility under the specific learning disability category and special education. Some people think it's an automatic. And really, there's there is a specific process for identification and specific process for diagnosis. And families really need to understand the difference between those two.

Laura Knoy:
Well, if I had a kid who had ADHD and was struggling because he or she couldn't learn in school, I would think, well, come on, why do you need to be so specific? I mean, he's really struggling here. So why does this matter so much how you define it?

Bonnie Dunham:
Sure. One of the things is by doing evaluations to find out whether or not the child is eligible for special education, you're also gathering information about specifically how the disability is impacting their learning. And it gives you input into how you can better support that child. What kinds of services will address the needs that the child is experiencing?

Laura Knoy:
Well, and on today's panel, it's great. We have two people who actually work in the schools with kids and parents. So, Jocelyn, I'll turn to you again with the Windham School District. What do you hear from parents on this?

Jocelyn Lister:
There's a lot of discussion. We have parents coming in all the time asking for services, thinking that their child is, like you said, struggling in one of our hard sort of primary kind of aspects is to make sure that we actually find out specifically what's going on. So that, like Bonnie said, we can actually look at the problem and figure out what's the best way to solve that problem. So when we're looking at a learning disability, we're also thinking about ruling out, is there a vision piece to this? Is there a hearing piece to this? Are there motor disabilities? Is there an emotional disability? Is there a lack of teaching? Was there an environmental? He's. And what about the cultural or economic pieces? So there's a lot to the process in terms of figuring out what's really going on with a specific student.

Laura Knoy:
So it's not the specific definitions aren't aimed at shutting someone out from services. It's more what is really going on with your learning problem? What is really going on?

Laura Knoy:
And then let's help you with that.

Jocelyn Lister:
Correct. Because once you figure out what the specific problem is, then you can figure out how the intervention is going to be successful.

Laura Knoy:
Tracey , I'd love to hear from you, too, on this.

Tracey Crain:
Sure. When we're thinking about especially at the very beginning, when students are just coming into referral for something like a learning disability. That's a lot of what I do as an elementary school case manager because I primarily work with kindergarten through third grade. So that's a lot of, hey, you know, we're starting to notice this. You know, how should we move forward? So a lot of schools, what they do is they have a process called the response to intervention process, which is called RTI. And through RTI, you might say, hey, you know, I'm noticing that this student is struggling with X, Y and Z. What can we put in place for them to just kind of put an intervention in place to kind of collect data and move forward? So together as a team with maybe the speech and language pathologist, a special education teacher, the general education teacher, things of that nature will come together and we'll develop a process before we go to a special education referral so we can say, hey, you know, let's have a met a small group, we'll do a small reading group, kind of see what they need.

Tracey Crain:
And depending on how that goes, we'll do it over maybe a course of eight weeks. And then if we notice that that student isn't making process, especially when compared to his typical peers, that's when we'll start with a special education evaluation process. And like she was saying, the evaluation process is actually one of my favorite things that I do, because we really get to dive into the learner and you get to see kind of, you know, where their strengths are, where they're relative areas of weaknesses are, and what you can do as a team to come together and then put a system in place. And that's when we begin to develop the IEP or the Individualized Education Plan.

Laura Knoy:
It's interesting. You said parents will come to you. Teachers will come to and say something doesn't seem quite right. Again, you work with the youngest kids. Tracey , what is it that they notice that isn't quite right? And is it just reading usually?

Tracey Crain:
So primarily I work with students in reading, writing, math, and then what we call word study, which is kind of like your grammar, phonics, that area and something that we have to be cognizant of is that through the response to intervention process, we can kind of track data to make sure that this is something we're seeing continually on time rather than just jumping straight into the IEP process. And so so, yes, I really like doing the evaluations because I got to kind of dive head first into being able to see like, oh, wow, I had no idea this was such a great strength of theirs. You know, let's tailor their education towards this way to kind of open up all their new doors.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's interesting that you say strengths, because we heard from a lot of listeners that they wanted us to tackle this topic. And when they told us that many also issued questions for us to address with you. So I'm going to be sharing those throughout the hour. And I really appreciate people who took the time out to do that. One listener said, please discuss updates and research and for each disability. What are the strengths a child might have? Just piggybacking on what you said, Tracey . And again, I want to thank that person for submitting that question. Let's tackle that second point first for each disability. What are the strengths a child might have?

Laura Knoy:
Maybe you first, Kristina, but anybody jump in. Give us a few example, examples of the abilities that some children with learning disabilities might have.

Kristina Scott:
I think it's very individualized. So to categorize that broadly would be really hard to do. My husband has a learning disability and he struggles with reading. He's struggled with reading his entire school career and got diagnosed when he was in college, in fact. But he's a great listener. He can remember anything that somebody told them while listening. So he's listening. Comprehension is really high. He's also a great talker and a great salesman, which led him into it. The career that he chose. You may be covering up his difficulty. He learned strategies along the way to compensate for his areas of struggle, which were in reading. That's one example. And I think we'd have to give individual examples because it's hard to broad based such because the disability affects everybody in a different way.

Laura Knoy:
And everybody copes in a different way. Bonnie, go ahead.

Bonnie Dunham:
I think one of the things that we see is the ability of children to think outside the box because they've they've throughout their school experience had to learn different ways of doing things. And so when presented a problem that other children may be unfamiliar with, they sometimes can come up with a very creative solution because it's just part of their everyday coping strategies is to think of how are the many ways that I could do this, given that the typical way doesn't work as well for me.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask You something, Bonnie, that what Tracey said reminded me of, she again works with the youngest children. How do you assess that a young child might have a learning disability given, you know, I've had two kids, I've seen it myself. Kids develop in such different ways, especially those early ages, you know, some walk early, some walk late, some read early, some read late. But once they start reading, they take off. So how do you even begin to accurately diagnose this, given the vast differences in the way that young children develop?

Bonnie Dunham:
I think sometimes children do have different rates in which they learn and grasp different, different pieces of information. But when you're really outside of that, that typical range is when it becomes a problem. When families sometimes will call us and say at the parent information center and say, my child is coming home after school everyday sobbing. He's a friendly, sociable child and doesn't want to go to school anymore. That's not him. It's just he says it's too hard. He's dumb. And families know that this child is not at, you know, intellectually disabled, that there's something else going on. That child is just been exposed to reading or subject areas that are too difficult for them because of the way that they're learning disability affects them.

Bonnie Dunham:
And so that sometimes for families as the first indication and then they start paying closer attention to having the child do some reading. Having the child looking at the child's homework. And when they see that that child is really struggling in those areas, they can bring it to the attention of the school. And while response to intervention can provide very helpful information, it's also important to know it's not intended to deny or to delay an evaluation. If anytime a family has a concern, they can certainly make a formal referral for special education evaluations.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Lister:
So that's absolutely true. And I was thinking about early identification pieces for safe preschool, kindergarten. You can look at the final logical pieces for the reading. So that's the rhyming. The ability to sort of listen just to words and figure out the first sound in a word, the last sound in a word. So you can do some early work in terms of assessing how a child makes sense of that sound system that we have. That's pretty complicated, but that will help in terms of really screening out some of the children that have some significant issues versus children who just need some extra practice. So there are some tools that we can use in terms of the assessment pieces for for that age.

Laura Knoy:
It's that process of discernment that we talked about a few minutes ago.

Jocelyn Lister:
Yes.

Laura Knoy:
I want to remind our listeners that you can join our conversation at 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 today in The Exchange. It's the second on our in-depth series exploring education in New Hampshire. And this week, we're focusing on learning disabilities. Each Monday, we're tackling a different subject concerning students, teachers and schools, topics chosen with help from you, our listeners. Again, many of you said you wanted to hear about learning disabilities. So that's what we're looking at today. The latest research and also philosophies around this and how it all informs the approach schools are taking with these students. Again, your questions and comments are welcome. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
Send us an email if you'd like. Exchange at nhpr.org. Once again, exchange at nhpr.org.

Laura Knoy:
A quick question for you, Kristina, before we go to our listeners. Has the number of students with learning disabilities gone up in recent years?

Kristina Scott:
It hasn't had actually has stayed pretty stable. The only category that we've seen kind of the largest uptick in his social, emotional or emotional disabilities with anxiety and depression becoming more and more diagnosed at younger ages. But specific learning disabilities has stayed pretty stable at about, I think, 45 percent nationwide. And I think in the state of New Hampshire. I think Bonnie has the statistics for that.

Bonnie Dunham:
It's 35 percent of children ages 6 to 21 are identified under that category. It may actually be a little larger, though, because children sometimes have multiple disabilities. They may have an attention deficit disorder and a learning disability. And so it depends on which one is identified as the primary one where they'd be classified. Well, that's a lot. It is. It's one third and almost twice as many boys as girls. And it's not uncommon for people to say, well, boys grasp skills a little bit later when it comes to reading or language skills and so forth. Then there to be that additional delay in waiting for that child just to catch up and seeing if just typical interventions will work.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go to our listeners, all of you, again, our email exchange nhpr.org. We'd love your questions, comments and personal experiences with this issue. Exchange at nhpr.org or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. And from Durham, Lauren is calling in. Hi, Lauren, you're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. Thank you for taking my call. Sure. So I have I have a daughter who's now a seventh grader. I knew when she was in preschool that there was something going on with her learning. And it took in kindergarten, they kept putting her in RTI. She would catch up to the class and then not qualify for RTI, be taken back out of it.

Caller:
And it took until her second grade teacher finally agreed with me for us to be able to get her fully tested and evaluated. And until third grade for her to actually qualify for an IEP. And it was a very frustrating process that I'm a parent who comes from a teaching background and had a lot of knowledge and knew how to fight and advocate for my child. But it's certainly been a process of where parents need to be really educated. And I feel really bad for parents who don't have any background knowledge and don't have the skills to be able to really fully advocate for their own kids.

Laura Knoy:
Well, what would you advise those parents, Lauren, given your own experience as a teacher and a parent?

Caller:
So I think the biggest thing is to really trust your instincts. I knew that something was going on with my daughter. Was very clear to me that there was something walking her ability to learn. She's very smart, she's very verbal. And because she was a verbal. People said, oh, she's fine. And I said, yeah, it's great that she's verbal. But there's a difference between verbal skills and learning. And so that I knew to keep pushing and saying, look, you've got to look at this. She's not making a strategy, not learning. She's not grasping the material. And we continue to work with the school system and we have an outstanding school system. But to push to get her the support that she needs on a regular basis.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's good to hear from you, Lauren. And since she mentioned Tracey RTI, that was something you talked about. Just remind us real quick what that is. And what do you think about Lauren's call?

Tracey Crain:
For sure, RTI stands for a response to intervention. And I totally hear you. I talk about this all the time, especially with the younger kids. Is that that sometimes those invisible disabilities where, you know, a lot of people gather gray? I mean, look at them. They're fine. Those can they come with their own disadvantages? Because, of course, you kind of have to feel like you're constantly proving like, no, look, you know, this. This is something that's really hard. So I appreciate so much that you were advocating for your child.

Tracey Crain:
And it makes me think of as a case manager. That's something that I have to do that we do a lot at school is partnering with the families as well as partnering with the team at school to think about, OK, what's going well and what do we need to do next. And so it's great to hear from a parent. You know how important it is to do that, because as a case manager and as a partner with the team at the classroom teacher and things like speech and language pathology. That's a really important relationship to have.

Laura Knoy:
Well, there's a lot more to talk about there. And we'll pick it up after a short break. I can see other people want to jump in on Lauren's point, too. Lauren, thank you very much for the call. Again, our e-mail address is exchange at nhpr.org. A phone number 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. You can use Facebook or Twitter to if you'd like. It's an nhprexchange. Coming up, more on the latest with special education. So stay with us. This is The Exchange on an HP.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. This hour, we continue our summer series on public education in New Hampshire. Each Monday was a different topic chosen with help from you, our listeners. Today, it's learning disabilities and we're looking at the latest research and philosophy's around this and how they're informing the approach that schools take with students who have learning challenges. Send us an e-mail with your own comments, questions, personal experiences, its exchange at nhpr.org. Use Facebook or Twitter at an nhprexchange or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. We have four guests in studio. Bonnie Dunham is here, special education law and policy specialist at the Parent Information Center. Kristina Scott, president of the board of directors for the New Hampshire Learning Disabilities Association and a professor of education at Salem State University. Jocelyn Lister, speech language pathologist with the Wind Farm School District. And Tracey Crain Elementary School special education case manager with the Dunn Darryl School in Portsmouth. One more time, that number for you to join us, 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Email exchange at nhpr.org and Jocelyn.

Laura Knoy:
Just for the break, we heard from Lauren, whose young daughter had some challenges, got her the help she needs RTI response to intervention. But I'm struck by what Lauren told us that her daughter seems to be doing better. And then she'd do worse and better and worse. And it wasn't a straight continuum. It was sort of a back and forth. And I wonder what you think about that.

Jocelyn Lister:
I think that happens fairly frequently, to be honest with you, in a school setting. And I think it's our job as educators to try to figure out why that happens and to use the data. We talk a lot about data driving instruction. And I do think that we as educators are still working towards that goal of using the data to drive how we actually provide the intervention. And I think one of the pieces that probably happened was that the intervention worked while it was being, you know, what was being instructed, but it wasn't quite enough to, you know, sort of close that gap.

Jocelyn Lister:
And that's the piece that I think we all have to really look at is closing the gap. So although RTI is a great intervention piece because we get in there early, like in Tracy's situation, what we have to do is look at is it closing the gap? And if it's not, then that's when we would evaluate to see. All right. Is there a different program of instruction? For example, there are specific tools or programs that we can use to help for kids with a significant reading disability such as the Orton-Gillingham approach or the Wilson approach.

Laura Knoy:
So they have to stay on top of it. It sounds like you can't just say, oh, she's doing better. Thank you very much.

Jocelyn Lister:
Correct. And that's the key.

Laura Knoy:
And it takes time and energy. And, yes, you know, everybody has a million things on their plate. So. Yeah. Bonnie, go ahead. Jump in.

Bonnie Dunham:
Sure. That delay in being identified as one of the biggest frustrations that we hear from families, that they raised a concern and nothing happened or they raised a concern. And the child was given a few interventions and seemed to do a little better. And so it stopped. And then the child gets the third grade and the family starts getting reports back. Your child is acting out because they'd rather be seen as a class clown than than somebody who can't do the work or your child is failing multiple subjects. And then the family is very, very frustrated by that. And so making a formal referral can be very important. And in that case, for the family to do, because both parents and educators want to think, if we try a little harder, it'll work. I'm so glad that a few years ago, then Governor Hassan signed a bill so that all entering children, entering first grade or kindergarten get assessed and screened for a learning disability. So hopefully that will I will minimize the number of children who fall through the cracks.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I have a broader question for all of you. Before we go back to our listeners and Kristina, you first, but anybody jump in. How have attitudes around learning disabilities changed either among educators in the public school system or just within the general public? What have you seen?

Kristina Scott:
I've seen a lot of national organizations kind of start to question should they call themselves? I don't know. For example, the National Learning Disabilities Association or should they refer to themselves as learning at these learning differences? Are they learning challenges? So this conversation as to kind of what is the correct terminology to use, because we know that the IQ is average to above average. So is disability really the term we want there? Because it doesn't really speak to the strengths that we say. So that's what I'm seeing nationally. And I'm seeing a lot of even teacher prep textbooks kind of take on this in some realm with their terminology and perhaps and changing it or are using it interchangeably.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and that's really interesting because words matter, right? I mean, some kids, if you say you have a dis. Ability they may say, well, I guess I'm just not good at math and I'm done. I don't need to try. Because I have this disability. So and you all spoke eloquently earlier about the abilities that sometimes people with learning disabilities, you know, find.

Laura Knoy:
So words matter when it comes broadly, but also to the individual. I wonder, do you think Kristina and then Tracey won't hear from you, too, just how you approach this with the individual person?

Kristina Scott:
Well, what we know from the research on learning disabilities is that we can actually detect learning disabilities at about 6 months of age and needing gab out of Boston Children's Hospital, looks at just does brain research and looks at the brain synapses during certain activities. And what we know about learning disabilities is that individuals with learning disabilities have different synaptic connections when asked to do specific tasks compared to their quote unquote, typical individuals are neurotypical individuals.

Kristina Scott:
So the fact that we know so early on and our job is as educators or as researchers are, to then supplement that the brain connections by giving interventions that strengthen other areas. So it's something we know and something we have interventions and that can address and can help supplement a child's growth in the specific area that they quote unquote, struggle with.

Laura Knoy:
Tracey , what do you think? What have you seen concerning attitudes around learning disabilities either in the schools or just in the general public?

Tracey Crain:
Well, something that I'm going to be very interested in and most passionate about in teaching right now in public schools is the social, emotional learning that we were kind of touching upon before. And specifically within the notion of growth mindset and growth mindset is the thought that your abilities can change and that they're not stagnant and that a person can grow in different ways. And teaching students about positive self talk, positive self talk is something that's very specific. It's not just saying things that are positive, but it's saying positive things about yourself like this is hard now, but I'm going to grow or this is something that's tricky for me, but I'm going to keep working or I'm going to use a different strategy to try this and I'm good at this and things like that.

Tracey Crain:
So especially with children with learning disabilities, as we were saying before, they have these invisible disabilities and they often feel like they have to prove themselves to others, teaching them these strategies and growth mindset and positive self talk. I find and with especially with the younger children that I work with, really help them to learn their own strategies in their learning and figuring out for themselves kind of this appreciation of, yes, what is hard for me, but what am I also really good at and how can I use what I'm good at to help me move forward?

Laura Knoy:
Some of those compensations that Kristina talked about earlier with her with her husband.

Tracey Crain:
Right. And especially with, you know, mental health concerns and things like that. It's really great to be able to teach. Kids like you don't have to be perfect at this right now. Let's learn some strategies to help you move forward and to encourage them to use different a wide variety of strategies and things like that.

Laura Knoy:
That's really interesting. So, Jocelyn, we talked earlier about the importance of diagnosis so that you can get the specific services that you need, all those interventions. But then we're also hearing about you don't want to label someone like you're disabled with this and you can't do it.

Jocelyn Lister:
Correct. Keeping that positive self-image is absolutely key to everything. But in the classroom setting, what I've seen over the past several years is a much more healthy attitude towards the differences, shall we say, in terms of students. I think in the past there was more of a stigma attached to having a disability or having some sort of an IEP or some sort of service. But nowadays, I feel like kids are very accepting of differences in terms of learning and differences. So kids come into the classroom, go out of the classroom. We have para educators in the classroom. We sometimes have special educators right in the classroom. And there's much more of a comfort level, I think is probably the right word in terms of. So you're good at math, but you have a challenge with spelling. OK, so how are we going to deal with that? And I think there's a much more of a of an acceptance of people's differences.

Laura Knoy:
Just people look different. Their brains may be wired differently, but not to the point. Jocelyn, where kids say my brain isn't wired for math, haha, I'm off the hook, right?

Jocelyn Lister:
Exactly. I think that there is a big emphasis on everybody being able to do it. There's an I can do it attitude. I know that many of our teachers in our school setting will use that. I can do it. And the push to really do the best you can.

Laura Knoy:
Bonnie real quick, then back to our listeners. Sure.

Bonnie Dunham:
Well, language does matter and learning difference does describe how children learn in different ways. It's also important for. The only way to know that there's nothing wrong with having a disability and so parents sometimes delay referring their children for special education because they're smart, they can't have a disability. In reality, Thomas Edison would have been eligible for special education if he were born today. And you don't know how much more that would have helped to how much more he could have done. So it's not. It shouldn't be a stigma. And we're seeing now that we have more inclusive classrooms, that children are used to having all kinds of kids with all kinds of different learning strategies and and approaches and universal design for learning that makes those classrooms more accessible to all children.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go back to our listeners, all of you, again, the number here in The Exchange, 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 email exchange at nhpr.org. And Kathleen's calling from Randolph. Hi, Kathleen, you're on the air. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
Thank you. I'm listening. Many years ago, my children, my children, all millennial, one of my children was premature and very premature. And and so we were fortunate that we had the support of a program called Early Intervention. And we also had the support of the school district within our accredited childcare center in Gorham, New Hampshire, that came to provide services when she was just three or four and then also throughout the school years. She had variety with support that we could access. And as a parent, the parent. Program support program out of Congress. That's for the whole state was very supportive and provided education for parents on how to access these services. So she graduated with honors. And I just can't say enough about the support we had in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Kathleen, it's it's good to hear from you and Bonnie. She's by referring to your group, which says the parent group in Concord. But are you guys in Concord? Yes. Yeah. OK.

Bonnie Dunham:
So in Concord statewide and so we're we've done workshops in Gorham and in almost every other community around the state.

Laura Knoy:
So a success story there. I wonder what comes up for you, Kristina, when you hear that story from our caller.

Kristina Scott:
Just the fact that she she knew to go to parent information center. We have a child find closet in federal government, which New Hampshire obviously abides by. And the Parent Information Center is one of the first places to go for your early intervention services so that students can get access before they turn age 3 and can be considered for public education. The early intervention services come to the home and and provide wraparound services for family support plans while before age 3. That's really young. Yeah, good one.

Bonnie Dunham:
Just to be clear, Parent Information Center can refer people to different resources, including the early intervention programs that are all around the state, but we don't provide direct services to children. We provide services to families and youth without I.D. how to sort of navigate the process, right? Yeah.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Let's go back to our callers. Jennifer's calling in from Milford. Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for being with us. Go ahead.

Laura Knoy:
Jennifer, good morning, you there? Yes. OK. Go ahead, Jennifer, ya, me. Yes, we can't go ahead, you're on the air.

Caller:
Thanks for taking my call.

Laura Knoy:
Sure.

Caller:
I'm coming out in front of your front position and I have a child who is a student that has been.

Caller:
Regularly, um testing above grade level and has still been having problems being engaged, being met. And I have been struggling for years trying to find out if he requires an IEP or not. And finally, after three requests, we did get an IEP, which he absolutely qualified for. However, the accommodations are you know, it's very difficult to meet some of the accommodations and trying to get him into classrooms on our level, classrooms that have a more experience or hands on and an approach that is best for children with processing disorder. The the skill ability and the intellectual ability and and the smarts have not been an issue. But keeping my child engaged had. What would your panel suggest?

Caller:
That I request to try and keep this moving forward, because, you know, we seem to be looking at a student that might just drop out of school just from disinterest.

Laura Knoy:
Jennifer, I'm sorry to hear that. And I'm gonna throw that to you, Jocelyn. I mean, you can't solve someone's individual specific problem on the air, but what does this caller make you think about it?

Laura Knoy:
I'm wondering if you've heard of similar instances.

Jocelyn Lister:
In terms of the processing disorder.

Jocelyn Lister:
I'm very interested to see what what the caller means about that, because clearly if if he's performing above grade level, as she stated, then I guess it's difficult to know obviously specifically what's really going on. But if there's a challenge, I mean, we as educators have to look at the classroom performance in terms of, OK, so how are they performing in the classroom? They might be above grade level or, you know, very cognitively equipped to deal with things. But if he's not engaging, then there's something. So I would suggest really trying to us to evaluate and try to figure out. So how is that processing disorder actually manifesting itself within the classroom setting? Is it because there's distraction by, you know, other things that are happening in the classroom? We have a system of classroom. Teacher amplification is called a red cat system, in which case the teachers voice is amplified and makes it easier for students to actually, you know, process and listen to the directions. And that might be something that the school district could, you know, take a look at.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's interesting.

Laura Knoy:
So in Windham, you have. Is it like a little microphone or is it just amplifies the teacher's voice?

Jocelyn Lister:
The teacher wears a microphone and there's a little box and it amplifies her voice to the whole classroom.

Laura Knoy:
So a little harder to tune him or her out to spacing out in the back.

Jocelyn Lister:
Exactly. Exactly.

Jocelyn Lister:
And then obviously, she talked about accommodations. And that's the piece where I think we need to go back to and just see, like, what are those accommodations and how are they actually being implemented? Is it viable to do something different? So I know and I hear her struggle. It sounds like he is definitely, you know, having some challenges and it just perhaps needs a whole team meeting to just kind of brainstorm some other options and possibilities.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Tracey .

Tracey Crain:
I totally understand where you're coming from with this processing difficulties, because that can be really hard to pin down because I think a lot of times in special education, what we talk about modifying, it's often for a student that's performing below grade level and needs help modifying to just keep along with the class. Whereas, you know, an equal part of that conversation is talking about modifying up. So for those students who are succeeding and are far beyond grade level expectations, you have to think about how to modify in order to keep them engaged and to challenge them and to keep them interested in school.

Tracey Crain:
And so obviously, everyone's case is different, but something that it makes me think of as that I'm a student I worked with this past year who is very talented and a lot of their day was having a similar thing. Yeah, I her her processing was getting in her way of some of her like engagement in school. And so we sat down as a team or like she can do that she has all these skills. And so we started. So this is like the speech pathologist myself as the case manager, classroom teacher, paraprofessional. We also sat down and said, OK, what is she really good at? What does she need help in? And we just found her strength as in technology. And we were able to put a lot of her programming in the technology field to help her to become more engaged through technology.

Laura Knoy:
I'm glad you mentioned technology because that's something we haven't talked about yet. The role of technology, there's all sorts of amazing things that can happen, assisted by technology for students with learning disabilities. So we will pick up on that after a break and keep taking your calls. Jennifer, thank you for that one. Our phone number 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. You're listening to The Exchange on Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Back to our conversation now about learning disabilities. It's part of our series on education in New Hampshire. Every Monday, we're tackling a different topic chosen with help from you, our listeners. Again, many of you told us you wanted to learn more about learning disabilities. So we're tackling that. And we'd love to hear from you. Use Facebook or Twitter at any PR exchange. Send us an email exchange at nhpr.org or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Here's an email. All of you from Susan who says hi. Just want to make sure you include occupational therapy. As part of the team, we help with fine motor visual perception, self-regulation, activities of daily living and more. I love going into the kindergarten classes and offering small fine motor groups, which also helps me and me see how the child learns as a whole. So there's Susan wanting us to include occupational therapy. And then Patrice on Facebook said, Please talk about the role of the paraprofessional. They're not required to have much, if any, training. You often carry the largest burden in the classroom. Thank you, Patrice, for that. Who wants to jump in on that? The role of the paraprofessional? Occupational therapists even talk about that a little bit. Jocelyn, what you see in the classes, you work with him?

Jocelyn Lister:
Sure. I think both of those aspects to our team are absolutely essential. I'll start with the occupational therapist. They bring a lot of expertise and competence to the table. They are often part of the assessment or evaluation team, which is great. But then following through into the classroom, specially in the earlier grades there, they can be an integral part in terms of helping a student just become more competent with the writing pieces and just really looking at some of the visual perceptual pieces. I mean, they just they have a lot of expertise and certainly a big part of our team. And then I'd like to talk a little bit about the parent educators just because we could not do our jobs without them. And I think that we we all will say thank you.

Laura Knoy:
What is a para educator?

Jocelyn Lister:
Good question. So a parent educator is a person who is can be assigned into a classroom, either full time working with a student who's been identified with a specific challenge or disability. And they can also be assigned to a classroom and work with two or more students depending on the situation. But they're there basically to help implement the IEP Individualized Education Plan. And they are definitely our hands when we can't be in the classroom. They are there and they're constantly monitoring the situation and implementing supports and services. They might do so many things to to really help a student there. They're essential.

Laura Knoy:
Well, here's an e-mail from LeAnn in Dover who says in her introduction, Kristina mentioned dysgraphia as one of the three main specific learning disabilities as the mother of a 9 year old with this graphic. I wonder if schools are struggling to identify dis graphic students and figure out how to help them. To echo Lauren from Durham's experience, I feel this has been a real struggle to get the school to acknowledge the issue which is affecting writing and spelling. In part, this has to do with the fact that early grades are not writing intensive, and also that many assessments focus on multiple choice math and reading questions, Leon says. Even after a full assessment, identified deficiencies are special ed department pointed to the strong math and reading scores as if to discount writing struggles. It seems like the system is set up so that we have to wait until students fall further behind rather than being proactive. Wow. LeAnn, lots to talk about there. Thank you so much and good luck, by the way. And go ahead, Kristina, you first. But anybody else can jump into lots of points she raises.

Kristina Scott:
You raise a number of good points with dysgraphia. And our current focus in our public schools with curriculum based assessments, which are part of the response intervention process, being either reading focused or math focused, but developing phonological awareness in our early grades than to reading fluency. And same thing with math, math fluency. You're kind of missing that this graphic or the writing portion and which is probably why you've struggled to get the diagnosis. And what we're what public schools should really, really be ready for relying on is our occupational therapists, which we just talked about because they're the ones that have the best knowledge of being able to diagnose this graphic. In terms of difficulty with writing our spelling or our curriculum based assessments for RTI and spelling could help. But I think you really need to include that occupational therapist in order to get a full picture of being able to diagnose a student with this graphic.

Laura Knoy:
Bonnie, what do you think about the point she makes that she felt that the school was saying, look, look, your kid is doing so well in these other areas, you don't need a special intervention.

Bonnie Dunham:
You hear that a lot. In fact, sometimes people hear your child can't have an IEP or an individualized education program because they haven't failed. And you don't have to fail, in fact, right in the law. It says you can be eligible even if you've never failed a course or grade. And that's overlooked sometimes because people focus so much on those on those grades. And children may be demonstrating their difficulties in other ways, including by acting out or by falling behind in a different area. And so that it is really important to set those high expectations in all areas, not just in reading, not just in math, but also in writing and in science and in all areas of the day.

Bonnie Dunham:
Children with learning disabilities sometimes are affected by those lowered expectations. You can't do this. And so you you because you can't read. Well, we're not going to let you take an Advanced Placement math class, which just doesn't make any sense. So there's some misconceptions about children with learning disabilities that really can have a negative impact.

Laura Knoy:
Tracey , you mentioned technology a few minutes ago, and I'd love to hear from you and anybody else how you see technology enhancing schools abilities to help students with learning disabilities.

Tracey Crain:
For sure. I'd love to talk a little bit more about that. So the that's the case I was mentioning before was we had a student who was very talented in school, had a lot of abilities. And then they the engagement piece was where we were finding that struggle. And so we sat down as a team and we just kind of made a map that said, OK, what where is she really thriving and what's going really well and what are areas that we need to work on? And so as a team, we're like, oh, my gosh, she's so engaged. Anytime technologies in the classroom, she is all about iPads and computers and YouTube and video editing and all this. And so we said, you know what, we need to make this a bigger part of her day because this is where she shines. And if we can sprinkle in math and reading and writing into an iPad. Great. So we were initially noticing some behaviors around Masters because math was hard. And because of the processing piece, it was more of a deflection of the skill. And so I took our math curriculum that we were using for her intervention process.

Tracey Crain:
And I made it all digital on my iPad. So instead of using pencil and paper, she had iPad and stylus. And so we were watching videos with headphones about the math skills and any quote unquote written work or worksheets, things like that were all on the iPod with a stylus and it went from zero to 100. Her her engagement just instantly flipped. And I think it helped her to learn like, oh, I do have these skills and this is something that I can do in school. And so she would get to the point where at the end of the school year, she would ask for things like, can I do that on an iPad instead in a very respectful, meaningful way, because she was learning what works for her. And I think that was really powerful for her. And towards the end of the school year, where the rest of the students were doing a passion project, maybe with pen and pencil. She did a passion project using I movie and video recording. And it was one of the best products I've ever seen.

Laura Knoy:
So how did the other kids in the class react to that? Because, again, I've had two kids, so I know what they're like. I mean, I can imagine some the other kids going, hey, hey, hey, I want to do that, too. That looks like way more fun than sitting down here with a pencil and paper.

Tracey Crain:
Mm hmm. So a hot topic, kind of an education right now is this flexible seating, universal design for learning accommodations for also in the classroom. She was in between myself as a special educator and her classroom teacher. We had more of a flexible process for everyone in her room where each student was able to do what works best for them.

Tracey Crain:
And so there was a time actually in that room where I went in and I just talked about disability for the third graders. You know what I modified and said, you know, there are some students that learn best this way and there are some schools that learn best this way. What's important is we respect everyone so that it's fair for all. And so just this culture, a school wide and especially classroom ride, helps that room to be successful for all learners, depending on what they need it. And so she just fit in and had her own thing, just like everyone else in the class had their own thing. So I think it's really like a a cultural setting that kind of needs to be established in a classroom to help all learners, especially those with learning disabilities, to feel accepted and like they can do what they need to do to be most successful.

Laura Knoy:
Interesting. Jocelyn, can you talk about that to the idea of integrating children who have IEP who have sort of cool ways to tackle their challenges and how you integrate those kids into the broader classroom?

Jocelyn Lister:
Absolutely. There's a lot of different, obviously, technology tools, which is super excellent. I wanted to talk a little bit more about the dis graphic as well, because I did want to clarify that this graphic just means a writing disorder. But we as educators need to try to tease out a little bit. Is it because they cannot formulate the language behind the writing piece? Is it the physical pieces that the occupational therapist would take a look at? Is it a combination of those two? And is it because the spelling is a challenge and then the spelling then kicks us into some of the technology pieces that students can use, which is a speech to text, which basically now can help with. If they can formulate the ideas but can't write it, then they can actually now produce the information that is is expected at grade level and sort of bypasses their issues with the actual physical writing or the or that even the challenge with the spelling. So that's where that technology can really come in.

Laura Knoy:
If we can again figure out what is underlying the dysgraphia. Boy it keeps getting back to that diagnosis that we talked about earlier and really looking at what is going on. And I see from your explanation, Jocelyn, how important that really is.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call. This is Heather in Dover. Hi, Heather. Go ahead. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. Thank you for taking my call. Sure. I'm wondering if the panelists can help the listeners better understand how all of these wonderful interventions are funded in our state or in Gillingham.

Caller:
Wilson Red Cat Technology. Individualized instruction that all need to be funded somehow. I've been a public educator for nearly 20 years now and on multiple occasions have written grants to try to get grant money to supply my classroom. And I know I'm not alone. I feel like the elephant in the room in this state in particular is how all of this is funded. And I feel like all of the listeners would really benefit from having a better understanding of that. I myself would like a better understanding of public education in general and special education in particular. How is that funded in our state and how does that funding affect? The service says that all of our children so dearly need.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Heather, it's great to hear from you. And I do want to let people know that we received lots of comments and questions from listeners about how special education services work and what's available and the different issues. But we also received a lot of questions from listeners about the cost of educating students with learning disabilities. Great questions. Important questions. We did cover that topic in February in depth. So when I refer listeners to that show, it's a huge topic, a very important one. But Bonnie, to you, we have talked about this before, you and I. And just briefly, if you could address Heather's point, how are these services covered? I'm guessing the availability and the quality varies greatly from district to district.

Bonnie Dunham:
The quality and the variability of availability of services that are specialists does vary partly because of the ability of districts to pay for those people and find them. The with the economy, the economy being good and people not being able to find a job pretty easily is great. But it means that school districts are struggling to find paraprofessionals and speech language pathologists and other specialists because they know they can make more money doing it in the private sector or are working for a hospital. And so the funding does play into that piece as well. But for special education, there are some state funding provided and then also federal funding under idea. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,.

Laura Knoy:
Which has never fully funded is the complaint we hear.

Bonnie Dunham:
It is never fully funded. But it does provide some funding for children with disabilities, as does the state. And then some children are also eligible for some additional funding that can come into the school districts through the Medicaid, the schools program. And every year there are bills in the legislature that will tweak that funding formula. So keep watching as the session begins.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and yeah, like you said, it's complicated. And our caller is saying all sorts of grants and pieces coming in here and there, but it is complicated. I would also refer listeners and again, a lot of people did want to know about the funding to our education reporter, Sarah Gibson's excellent series called Adequate. That's on our Web site. And then again, The Exchange did a whole program in February. Pretty easy to find on our Web site. And also, you can look at our podcast. It's there. You're probably in enjoy looking at past shows that you might have missed. So go ahead, Bonnie.

Bonnie Dunham:
Just one last point is that the availability of services or the funding issues cannot stand in the way of a child getting the services that they need. School districts may find it to be extremely difficult, and I sympathize with that, but that people need to work together, find a way to meet the needs of each child, because failure just should not be an option.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and to our callers point, another listener from contacted us before the show, wanted to know about local and state policy, asking is parent involvement welcome and valued by school personnel? To what degree are schools required to support student success and well-being at home and into adulthood? So it sounds like you're saying, Bonnie, schools are required to provide these services?

Bonnie Dunham:
Yes. They don't need to meet the needs of children in the home setting if it's not affecting their education. But parent involvement is recognized as a very important piece in New Hampshire, goes above and beyond even the federal requirements in finding ways to involve parents in making decisions and supporting their children's learning. And so parent engagement is a very important piece that we value dearly in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Kristina, I guess you would echo that. And I just wonder if you've any last thoughts that you would like to just leave our listeners with what you think is important for people to really understand about this issue.

Kristina Scott:
The terms of the legal issue ?

Laura Knoy:
In terms of just learning disabilities overall and kind of where we're at now at this moment.

Kristina Scott:
I think just overall learning disabilities just know that there are strengths and really pay play to each individual's strengths and use those strengths to compensate for areas of weakness that helped develop the areas of weakness for our students and watch out for the language.

Laura Knoy:
As we talked about earlier, more and more people talking about ability and working through what challenges they might have. This has been great. We could have talked a lot more. I really want to thank everyone for coming in. Jocelyn, listeners, good to meet you. Thank you for being here. Thank you so much. Jocelyn listeners, a speech language pathologist in Wind Ham, Kristina Scott. Great to have you to thank you for your time. Kristina Scott is president the board of directors for New Hampshire Learning Disabilities Association. Tracey Crain, thank you for making the time they shooting. It's been wonderful. Tracey Crain is an elementary school special education case manager with the Dunn Darryl School in Portsmouth. And Bonnie Dunham, I'm sure we'll talk again. Thank you for being here. Thank you very much. That's Bonnie Dunham again. She's with the Parent Information Center, a family organization based in Concord. This is The Exchange on Hampshire Public Radio.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NH PR, its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you liked what you heard, spread the word. Give us a review on Apple podcasts to help other listeners find us. Thanks.