Back To School 1 - Page 14 - Embracing Learning Differences Leads to Success

Back To School 1
- Page 14
Embracing Learning Differences Leads to Success
By Elizabeth Schuman,
Contributing Writer

As a new high school graduate, Mollie Dickler, 18, remembers her elementary school classes. She struggled in the classroom– reading was difficult, organizing her thoughts was nearly impossible. It seemed overwhelming. No one – teachers included – understood the full extent of her learning challenges.

It was exhausting. When testing revealed that Dickler had dyslexia and executive functioning disorder, her parents hired tutors and an organizational coach. “I learned how to understand what I was reading and how to organize myself better.” Still, even that wasn’t enough. “I’ll never forget one science teacher who told me that dyslexia and ADHD were fake and just an excuse,” she says.

Nothing could be further from the truth, believes Ben Shifrin, head, Jemicy School in Owings Mills.“Learning differences have nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, research has shown that some of the top CEOs have learning differences. It’s about seeing the world differently.”

Blame it on biology. Some types of learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, can be inherited, though not all instances can be attributed to genes. “Our brains are wired to speak but are not wired to read,” says Shifrin. Reading is a man made construct or code rather than an intuitive action. “The majority of people need direct, explicit instruct to understand the code and succeed.” For some students, however, learning to decipher language codes is insurmountable. Estimates are that one in five children in the U.S. have learning and attention issues, according to a 2017 report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).

This includes the 2.5 million who have specific learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia and 6 million who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Fortunately, help is available as awareness of learning differences grows. In addition to specialized programs in public schools in Baltimore and Maryland, private schools such as Jemicy School and The Odyssey School provide evidence-based approaches to help students achieve academic and personal goals.

Proud Learners
Dickler entered Jemicy School in 10th grade. “I learned that my dyslexia was not an excuse and that I didn’t need to hide behind it,” she says. “Teachers explained that everyone has different gifts and that all of us can do amazing things.” For her, it was an eye-opener. “I was so used to being in the back of the classroom and in the shadows.”

That’s an important lesson. All too often, research has found that stigma about the problem, low expectations and lack of understanding from others results in students with learning differences entering a downward spi-

Learning continued on page 19

Above left: Dogs provide a non-judgmental set of ears for students developing reading fluency. Photo by Donna J. Mortensen, courtesy of Jemicy School.
Above right: Jemicy teachers employ multisensory, activity-based techniques to build and reinforce skills Photo by Leslie Furlong, courtesy of Jemicy School.