The Dragonfly Forest

They have been given names such as devil’s darning needle, ear sewer, horse stinger, skeeter hawk, and the snake’s servant. Actually, Dragonflies are beneficial, peaceful, and stunning. You are a Dragonfly if you are: ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic, Asperger’s, NLVD, autistic…

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What it might be like to have dyslexia

October is Dyslexia Awareness month so this article will help you understand what it might be like to be a person with dyslexia.  I used the words “might be like” because one of the first thing to understand is that dyslexia is different for each person.   Everyone is an individual and the brain is a unique as a person’s fingerprints; no two are alike! 

Let me explain in a simple way how the brain processes language.  

This is the NON-DYSLEXIC brain working.  When the person sees the words on the page they quickly go to the language center of their brain.  In the non-dyslexic language center the information (letters, sounds, numbers, colors...) are all stored in an orderly sequential way so that each piece is easy to retrieve. Having an organized language center makes learning, especially learning to read fairly easy.

The language center of a person with dyslexia is very different.  
Here the person sees the words on the page and goes up to their language center of their brain to find the corresponding letters and sounds.  When they get to their language center, it is not organized.  Depending on how dyslexic they are, their language center can range from having only a few things out of place to major chaos.  If the person also has ADD/ADHD there may be even more difficulties.  A person with dyslexia doesn't often come back quickly with information because they are sorting through all the mess in their language center to find just the right words, letters, sounds, numbers...  This can be seen when a student has low reading fluency and/or difficulties with Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN). Since the language center is disorganized the person often struggles with sounding words out and may read the words incorrectly.  A great deal of time they will just guess a word based on beginning letters and the shape of the word because it is very time consuming searching all over their language center for just the right match.  

Hopefully this gives you an idea of what it might be like for a person with dyslexia.  If you look up on the internet what it is like to be a person with dyslexia you may come across some activities that "simulate" dyslexia.  I'm not a fan of these "simulations" (explained below) but what I hope you get from these is an understanding of the frustration and feelings of learned helplessness (important topic to understand) that comes from being a person with dyslexia

So, why am I not a fan of some of these simulations?  Well, for a few reasons.  As I pointed out before, every person with dyslexia is different and often these "simulations" give the impression that these experiences are universal and they feed into many myths.

The first one I don't like is the one where the people have to read from a paper where the letters are backward, squiggly, or missing parts.  The point is to demonstrate how hard a person with dyslexia has to work in order to read.  The problem with this simulation is the way the letters are presented.  For the most part, people with dyslexia do NOT see things differently.  It is NOT a vision problem.  True, there are some people who also have difficulty with convergence or have eye problems but this is NOT dyslexia.  A better way to present this activity is to try to read something in a foreign language that you do not understand, especially out-loud. These are real words and in order to read them you have to know the phonetic codes that go with each letter and foreign language. Try this:

The other simulation I'm not fond of is the "mirror writing."  Again, this is to show how frustrating it is for the person with dyslexia to share their thoughts on paper but it also adds to the myth that people with dyslexia have difficulty with their vision.  Also, not everyone with dyslexia also has dysgraphia.  Dysgraphia is often common in people with dyslexia but some people with dyslexia are great at writing (penmanship & written expression).  Most people don't even know about dysgraphia which is similar to dyslexia. See, in writing there are also a lot of steps the brain has to go through to process the language and tell the hand how to form the letters, space the letters, spell the words, formulate the sentence, and express thoughts.  Some people may be dysgraphic and not dyslexic - remember everyone is unique.  Doing the mirror activity can be very confusing for people.  A better way to simulate the difficulties with writing for some people with dyslexia is to have people listen to a few sentences in different foreign languages (ones they do not know) and have them write down what they are hearing.  Remember that most adults have learned to adjust to the most non-phonetic language, English so for some people this task may be fairly easy. So to add to the challenge have participants write with their non-dominant hand and go quickly so there is no time to sit around an think.  It is also good to have the sentences to be dictated by someone who fluently speaks that language.

Thanks for still reading this post.  I know it is long and I made it that way on purpose.  People with dyslexia don't like to read because it over works their brain. This is called cognitive overload.  When students are in school all day they will experience cognitive overload.  These students are working 2, 3, and sometimes even 4 times harder than their non-dyslexic peers but it is not often obvious.  So only when a non-dyslexic person (parent or teacher) understands this then changes can be made to the way the person with dyslexia is viewed and treated.  I hope you now have a better understanding of what it might be like to be a person with dyslexia.

Finally, the very best way to know what it is like for a person with dyslexia is to ASK them!  Have them explain what it is like for them in school or work.  They will have the most accurate insight into what it is like to be a person with dyslexia.    

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fox on Friday!

This fox came and visited a girls soccer game last night & I just love how cute this fox is so I'm sharing here...  enjoy!  Happy Friday!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Must Watch TV show about Dyslexia from 1984

I miss ABC After-school Specials.  The episodes on this series allowed the view to live vicariously through the experiences of the characters.  After-school Specials were educational and entertaining. ABC also did some other things right- they made sure it was multicultural.  Growing up in a very multicultural environment I appreciate seeing people of all races and cultures not just one.   What I don't like is how they make dyslexia look like a visual disorder but I love how Brian (the main character played by River Phoenix) gets others to help him out.  

Here is episode 6 from Season 12 - Backwards: The Riddle of dyslexia.  This episode aired in March 1984 and stars young River Phoenix (RIP my friend)  and his younger brother Joaquin who went by the name as as Leaf back then.  This episode is broken down into 5 short parts so that you can watch is more easily since the whole show is over 45 minutes long.  Enjoy...

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Final Part 5

Friday, October 7, 2016

Who I am....

Re-sharing because it is Dyslexia Awareness month & I want to share my dyslexia story...

My story:  Jill Marie-Grandstaff Lam (because I am dyslexic and ADD I don't eye-read fast so I added a lot of short video clips to help tell my story).

Dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADD are genetic and strong in my family tree.  Like many others, I didn't know what was wrong with me or the names dyslexia and dysgraphia.  I also didn't know that I had Attention Deficit Disorder, I just thought everyone lived in the thoughts in their head.  Here's an example of me in school & even now - 

I could always relate to these Ralph Phillips cartoons!  I still don't know my math facts (times tables) and it wasn't because I was daydreaming during the lessons it was due to being dyslexic.  My rote memory just isn't there.  School was also challenging because I struggled with reading.  I have NEVER been able to sound out an unknown word.  I was taught Whole Language (insert eye-roll here & if you are educated about dyslexia I bet you did the eye-roll all on your own) and therefore was not taught phonics.  I didn't even learn how to say some of the letter sounds correctly until my own children were going through their private Orton-Gillingham tutoring. Finally, my reading fluency sucks.  I can't even get half-way through the subtitles of a movie before the screen changes. I had to see each of the Star Wars movies 12 times before I completely read the opening words- (okay, those of you who know me well know I was thrilled to see each one a dozen times).  
Yes, I struggled immensely in school from kindergarten to my Ph.D. program. Oh heck, I struggle every day with my disabilities!  I could share some stories of heartache and pain, stories about how I never fit in and worked so hard to hide my disabilities; but I will not share these stories today.  I want to share with you 3 SUPERPOWERS I have BECAUSE of my disabilities. 
1:  The Superpower of Empathy
My brain is not able to process language like a non-dyslexic brain but I have more mirror neurons than my peers which means I experience deeper levels of empathy.  I knew from very early on that I felt the feelings of others.  I used to take these feelings on as my own because I didn't know the difference between the other person's feelings and my own feelings. Here's a video of mirror neurons & empathy to help you understand!   
So how do I know I have more mirror neurons & excess empathy?  I wish I could explain it or even prove it scientifically but I can't right now (working on that).  I just know.  Over the years I have developed this sixth sense so well that I am able to read even subtle body language and facial expressions of others.  When I meet people I can tell exactly what they are feeling and experiencing.  I can sense those around me that have this similar Superpower and it is often very strong in people with dyslexia.  Let me point out that not everyone has this as a Superpower or even a strength.  They may think they do because they have some mirror neurons and can show empathy but it is very different than what I am talking about; what I mean is an exceptional level of being able to feel exactly what another person is experiencing.  For those of you who have it to this degree - you know exactly what I mean. 

2:  The Superpower of Acceptance
I not only have an abundance of mirror neurons and empathy because these are the strength of my brain, I was also raised by parents who also have a brain wired with extra mirror neurons and empathy.  My parents taught me to accept EVERYONE and to help those in need.  I was blessed with acceptance and not judgment. I was taught the love of ear-reading and given audio books to listen to from Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie... and many more.  I was taught about Leo Buscaglia and his values.   I live my life based on the teachings of Leo even when people are mean to me or treat me bad.  Oh, you don't know Leo Buscaglia?  Well then, here's a very short clip oh him in action:
Doesn't he just make you smile?  Well that's my reaction.  I have an intrinsic passion for inclusion of everyone.  
3:  The Superpower of Tenacity
Having dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADD is not easy and as a child I didn't know anyone else like me so I knew that I was different.  I was on a quest to find others like me, as well as, to find the real ME.  I searched for answers in movies and books.  In high school, I found the answer in Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and knew that I was on my own Hero's Journey!  I learned we are all on our own Hero's Journey and each movie and book took me on these adventures. The characters in these books and movies are like friends to me.  I an not an outsider looking in, but immersed in the stories as if I too were living them and experiencing the same adventures. I mastered my own Superpower skill of Tenacity!  I don't give up.  Watch my friend, Samwise Gamgee, explain exactly what I mean to Frodo Baggins:
Yes, I am a person with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADD but I am also a person with many Superpowers- Empathy, Acceptance, and Tenacity.  In elementary and junior high my life was filled with shame and exclusion.  In high school when I became "friends" with Joseph Campbell I heard my calling to help others.  Like many, I refused this calling. I thought, who was I to help others- I am not worthy.  Due to my inner tenacity I took the leap of faith and headed off to college to pursue a degree in Psychology (I also have minors in Health Education and Marketing).  With the help of all my Supernatural Aids (the characters of my movies & books) I went on to get a Master's degree in Clinical Counseling and became a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with supervisory status and then entered Crossing the Threshold into the working world.  I was taught how to diagnose all types of learning disabilities, worked in many areas of special education as a therapist, and eventually I entered the Belly of the Whale by opening my own private practice as a Psycho-educational Diagnostician and Counselor in 2007- Forest Alliance Coaching (& Forest Alliance Coaching FB page).  On my journey of helping others I have been down many Roads of Trials and I'm still on these roads but I have tenacity to just keep going. I now have my Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in Educational Psychology.
As I continue my journey I have ventured into many other areas where I can help others live a better life.  A few years ago I started The Dragonfly Forest a blog where I can share insights and motivate others who are different and often have disabilities (ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Asperger's...).  Through The Dragonfly Forest blog, FB page, and my private practice I have become even more involved in the disability community and now have Dragonfly friends all over the world.   
In early February 2013 I read about the Decoding Dyslexia movement in New Jersey and knew I was receiving another calling (one I didn't hesitate to answer).  I contacted Deborah Lynam from DD-New Jersey and got started on Decoding Dyslexia Ohio by making a commitment to DD-NJ and then starting Decoding Dyslexia here in Ohio and created the Decoding Dyslexia Ohio Facebook page.   The DD-OH journey has been an exciting one and I know that I was guided this way so I can continue to help make the lives of others a better place.  I meet with the wonderful parents of children with dyslexia in Ohio and look forward to sharing this journey with them.  The parents have been such a great support system as well and these parents suggested there be another Facebook page that focused Family Support (since the website & other FB page were focused on school and legal issues) so DD-OH Family Support FB page was started.  I am so excited by all the adventures we will be having on this DD-OH journey and thrilled that God, the Higher Power, or the Universe guided me in this direction. 
Here is one final video that I think really supports my life's journey and my Superpowers. Some of you will recognize a young Ben Foss (it was filmed in 2003 btw).   I love being on this journey with some great people like this - and YOU!  Thanks for sharing this journey with me! 


Sunday, October 2, 2016

5 ways to Celebrate National Dyslexia Awareness Month

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and a great time to put a spotlight on dyslexia.  Although remember~ for full acceptance and inclusion we need to always have a spotlight on dyslexia and all types of disabilities not just once a year. The best way to embrace differences is to focus on all the unique qualities we all have.  

So, here are 5 ways to not only bring dyslexia into a classroom setting in October but ways you can add it to your curriculum to touch on all year long.

1.) Hang up pictures of people around the room with dyslexia (and other types of disabilities).  Here's a great link of famous people with dyslexia where you can find people in all types of fields for any classroom.  This is important because we have learned from the Harvard Implicit Bias Project that we have less bias toward people of specific races, genders, and disabilities when we are frequently exposed to positive images of people in these categories. (You can find plenty picture quotes, like the one below, I make for the Decoding Dyslexia Ohio Facebook Page).  

2.) Explain to students the signs of Dyslexia- A quick way to do this is to show one or both of these videos


Also pass out this information from the The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity

** Note: be prepared to see yourself in these symptoms and have a number of students in your classroom identify with these symptoms because 1 in 5 is a person with dyslexia!  

3.) Add books to your classroom - a great page to find these resources is the Yale's list of books for young people focused on dyslexia.  Furthermore, teach about famous authors with dyslexia such as: Avi, Victor Villasenor Burro, Agatha Christie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John IrvingDav Pilkey, Patricia Polacco, Henry Winkler... 

4.) Show one or more of these short videos.  Each is a famous person speaking about their experience being dyslexic.  When students learn about people with disabilities beings successful, the students become more motivated.  

Orlando Bloom:

Whoopi Goldberg:

Sir Richard Branson:

Daymond John:

It is also powerful to have a young person share the story of their own journey toward success despite having a disability and this video of Piper Otterbein is very inspiring!  


5.)  Do not... I repeat DO NOT do a dyslexia simulation where the letters on the page are flipped, reversed, half missing, or blurred. People with dyslexia do not see things wrong and this type of activity only feeds the myth that dyslexia is related to seeing the letters/words backwards.  If you do feel that you want to help people understand how reading can be challenging for a person with dyslexia have them read something in a foreign language.  The following is a simple paragraph with each sentence in a different foreign language.  Have people try to read this accurately and fluently - they will discover that it isn't easy.  Explain that this is similar to what some people with dyslexia experience.  Make sure the students understand that each person with dyslexia is unique and it doesn't mean the person is not smart- their brain is just processing language differently.  Also do NOT explain what it is like to be a person with dyslexia if you do not have dyslexia.  Have a guest speaker come in and talk to the class on what living with dyslexia is like for that person.

Finally, make sure you talk to students daily all year long that each and every student is unique and it is being different that makes the world a great place.  Have them think about all they ways they are a unique individual!  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"The Blame Game! Are School Problems the Kids' Fault?" article by Pam Wright

                          The Blame Game!   
Are School Problems the Kids' Fault? 


Pamela Darr Wright, M.A., M.S.W. 

Licensed Clinical Social Worker**

** This article is being shared with you from Wright's Law article "The Blame Game."  I am sharing the article to assure you read this article since some people do not click on the links provided.  This is very important information everyone should understand! All credit goes to the author, Pam Wright!  I have shared this many times over the past few years and I find it very sad that I have to share it at the beginning of a school year. Blaming & Shaming have to stop - here's another past post regarding Shaming. Finally, if you want to understand what it like for a person to have a learning disability please read about Learned Helplessness (it's not what you think).

"They think Brian’s school problems are my fault. When I said he needed more individual help from the LD teacher, they shook their heads. They only "do collaborative" now. They told me I shouldn’t use the word "dyslexia" because it sounds hopeless. Then they asked how my husband and I were getting along! (Denise, mother of a boy diagnosed with emotional problems, later found to have severe dyslexia.)

The school psychologist said Shannon's learning problems were her fault, that she was lazy and unmotivated and we had to pressure her to work harder. We didn’t allow her to watch television. We didn't allow her to go out with friends. Homework took hours to complete, even when we helped her. She got terribly depressed. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to raise a lazy child. (Emory & Elaine Carter before they learned Shannon had dyslexia and ADHD. See Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter, 510 U.S. 7, (1993)). 

The Blame Game
Parents of special ed kids often say that they are intimidated, patronized and made to feel guilty and inadequate by staff at their children’s school. These parents feel helpless, frustrated, and defensive. 

Not surprisingly, parents behave exactly like other human beings when they are blamed or attacked. Feeling threatened and uncomfortable, most parents try to explain and justify their position, in hopes that they will be understood. A few go on the offense, firing volleys of blame back.

Many parents find these experiences exquisitely painful and humiliating. If they withdraw and try to avoid school functions, they find that they've been labeled as "uninvolved parents." Again, they are blamed for their children’s learning problems.

Sometimes, emotions get out of control. Feelings of anger, bitterness, and betrayal consume parents and school personnel - who are then unable to work together to make educational decisions. In these cases, everyone loses. The child is usually the biggest loser if the parents and educators cannot work together effectively.

What is the basis for these negative experiences? Are parents too sensitive? Do they misperceive and misunderstand what happens in their contacts with educators? Or are parents just over-protective of their children, as many educators claim?

If you are a "special ed" parent, you know that it's hard to fight - and almost impossible to bail out. If your child receives special education services, you have to attend school meetings and you have to cooperate in developing your child’s IEPs. How can you do this?

And here's another question: If the school staff believes that you or your child are responsible for your child’s problems, how can you work with them so your child’s interests are protected? How can you ensure that your child gets a good quality education?

School Culture
If you have run into a "brick wall" of resistance when you tried to obtain changes in your child’s educational program, you need to understand how schools really work. You need to learn about "school culture" and the beliefs held by many educators, school psychologists, administrators, and guidance counselors.

Dr. Galen Alessi, Professor of Psychology at Western Michigan University, conducted a fascinating study on school psychologists. Dr. Alessi’s study illustrates why so many parents have problems dealing with schools. Dr. Alessi’s article is "Diagnosis Diagnosed: A Systemic Reaction" published in Professional School Psychology, 3(2), 145-151.

The primary role of the school psychologist is to evaluate children to determine the reasons for learning and behavior problems. According to Dr. Alessi, when a child has trouble learning or behaving in school, the source of the child's problem can usually be traced to one or more of five causes.

First, the child may be misplaced in the curriculum, or the curriculum may include faulty teaching routines.

Second, the teacher may not be implementing effective teaching and/or behavioral management practices.

Third, the principal and/or other school administrators may not be implementing effective school management practices.

Fourth, the parents may not be providing the home-based support necessary for effective learning.

Fifth, the child may have physical and/or psychological problems that contribute to learning problems.

School psychologists from different areas of the country were interviewed and asked to complete an informal survey. The school psychologists were asked if they agreed that the five factors listed above play a "primary role in a given school learning or behavior problem." (Page 148) The school psychologists agreed that these factors, alone or together, played a significant role in children’s learning problems.

The school psychologists were surveyed about the number of children they evaluated during the past year for learning problems. The average number was about 120 cases (or kids). These numbers were rounded to 100 cases for each of the 50 psychologists for a total of 5,000 cases.

Alessi asked these psychologists how many reports they wrote in which they concluded that the child’s learning problem was mainly due to curriculum factors. "The answer was usually none. All cases out of the 5,000 examined confirmed that their schools somehow had been fortunate enough to have adopted only the most effective basal curricula." (Page 148)

Next, he asked how many reports concluded that the referring problem was due primarily to inappropriate teaching practices. "The answer also was none. All cases out of the 5,000 examined proved that their districts had been fortunate enough to have hired only the most skilled, dedicated, and best prepared teachers in the land." (Page 149)

Then, he asked the psychologists how many of their reports found that the problem was due mainly to faulty school administrative factors. "The answer again was none. All cases out of 5,000 examined demonstrated that their districts had hired and retained only the nation’s very best and brightest school administrators." (Page 149)

When asked how many reports concluded that parent and home factors were primarily responsible, the answer ranged from 500 to 1,000 (10% to 20%). These positive findings indicated that we were finally getting close to the source of educational problems in schools. Some children just don't have parents who are smart, competent, or properly motivated to help their children do well in school.
Finally, I asked how many reports concluded that child factors were primarily responsible for the referred problem. The answer was 100%. These 5,000 positive findings uncovered the true weak link in the educational process in these districts: the children themselves.
If only these districts had better functioning children with a few more supportive parents, there would be no educational difficulties. (Page 149)

Dr. Alessi noted that in IEP disputes, "family factors are invoked most often when the parent does not attend the meeting, or if the parent is involved in a way deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the school staff. Otherwise, child factors alone seem to carry the explanatory burden for school learning and behavior problems." (Page 149)

Based on the results of these 5,000 reports prepared by school psychologists, "the results indicate clearly no need to improve curricula, teaching practices, nor school administrative practices and management. The only needs somehow involve improving the stock of children enrolled in the system, and some of their parents." (Page 149)

Alessi expressed serious concerns about his findings. If school psychologists define children’s learning problems as existing solely within the child, "it is equally unclear how school psychologists can help resolve this kind of problem. School psychologists seem to define school problems in ways that cannot be resolved."

When Dr. Alessi shared these findings with the school psychologists, many protested that "all five factors are indeed responsible for school problems in the cases they studied, but that informal school policy (or ‘school culture’) dictates that conclusions be limited to child and family factors.

Many feel that they could lose their jobs were they to invoke school-related factors. Certainly, they claim, their professional lives would be made very uncomfortable . . . The fact remains that no school psychologist in the group had determined that any existing problems were due to school-related factors." (Page 149) 

The "Child-as-the-Problem"
Dr. Alessi discussed several additional reasons for the prevailing "child-as-the-problem" perspective of school psychologists. Graduate school programs focus on child problems and ignore or exclude school-related factors. Workshops and papers presented at school psychology conferences share the "child-as-the-problem" focus. Most school psychology journals focus exclusively on child factors.

School psychology textbooks have a clear "child-as-the-problem" bias. After examining several "mainstream" school psychology texts, Alessi found that when assessing children’s reading problems, school factors were mentioned as a factor between 7% and 0% (zero) of the time. "Child factors" were held responsible for reading problems between 90% to 100% of the time.
Citing a classic book on reading disability, Alessi noted that it included no chapters about the connection between reading problems and school factors. The entire book focused on "child factors." (Page 150)

The "child-as-the-problem" bias also pervades school psychology research and practice. Alessi referenced one work that presented an extensive review of the research on learning disabilities. "Of the approximately 1,000 studies reviewed, not one examined the relation between school factors and learning disabilities." (Page 150)
In conclusion, Alessi observed that "Parents trust school psychologists not to adopt assessment practices that are inherently biased in ways that could hinder, rather than help, their children." (Page 148)

"Ethical Burdens" on Psychologists
Dr. Alessi discussed the "ethical burdens" on school psychologists:
As this body of research grows, school psychologists will increasingly face the burden of deciding whether they work for the schools or for the children, in cases where the interests clash. (Page 150) 'We end with a discussion of the ethical burdens on school psychologists to be forthright and honest when reporting their findings.'
He posed some questions: (Page 150)
Are we really helping children by concluding that children alone are responsible for their educational problems?
Are we helping the school system at the expense of the children?
How do we balance the rights of those who pay for our services against those who receive our services, when interests clash?
Is the role of the school psychologist to label children to help schools avoid improving faulty educational practices, or to help schools improve faulty educational practices to avoid labeling children?

As the parents of a child with special educational needs, what does this study tell you?

If you believe the staff at your child’s school are not willing to look at what they need to do differently to help your child learn, you may be right.

If you believe that you and/or your child are being blamed for your child’s learning problems, you may be right. 

And if you believe that school factors (i.e., an inappropriate curriculum, faulty teaching, ineffective school administration and management practices) are contributing to your child’s problems, you may be right. 

Now what?
What are the implications of this study for you, the parent of a special needs child? Your job is to work with the school system to secure educational services for your child.

To make good decisions about your child's educational program, you need accurate information about your child's educational difficulties and educational needs. You will find this information in psychological and educational evaluations of your child. If you cannot rely on evaluations by school district personnel for this information, what can you do? Should you ask the school for an "independent educational evaluation?"

You have learned that many people who work in schools share the belief that the problems they have teaching children have little or nothing to do with the curriculum, their own training and experience, or school administrative factors. Instead, they believe that the child’s problems are caused by the child himself. 

Many people who work in schools -- school psychologists, guidance counselors, principals, and special education directors -- share this belief. Because school staff associate with other school staff, they continually reinforce the view of the "child-as-the-problem" in their dealings with one another.

As a parent, can you force educators and school psychologists to change their beliefs? No. This view of the "child-as-the-problem" exists and persists because it serves a purpose.
What would you think if the next time you attended an IEP meeting, the school staff told you that your child’s worsening problems were caused by an inappropriate curriculum? Inadequately trained teachers? An incompetent principal? This won't happen.
As the parent of a special ed child, your job is to negotiate with school staff and secure a good quality special education program for your child. In your role as a negotiator, what do you need to know?

As a negotiator, your single most important tool is to understand and be able to explain the position of the "other side" as well or better than your own!
Once you understand the beliefs and perceptions of the school staff, you will be in a stronger position. You are more likely to accomplish your objective. When you understand how school people think and what they believe, you'll be able to generate "win-win solutions" that meet your child's needs -- and theirs.

To accomplish your objective of getting a good educational program for your child, you must have accurate information about your child. This information includes the results of different psychological and educational tests. If you don't have good quality private sector diagnostic evaluations, you wont' be able to develop an appropriate educational program for your child. Knowing that school psychologists are often biased, what options do you have?

Independent Educational Evaluations Parents ask: "Why can’t I tell the school that I want an independent educational evaluation done on my child? Money is short. Private testing is expensive. Aren’t we are entitled to this?"

Before we answer your question, let’s change the facts.

If you belong to a managed care health plan, you have a primary care doctor. This person entered into a contractual agreement with your insurance company, and agreed to abide by certain rules. The most important rule is that this doctor agreed to hold medical costs down by managing care.How does this work?

In managed care,your primary care doctor acts as a "gatekeeper," regulating (limiting) your access to medical treatment. If you go to a specialist without an appropriate referral by your primary care doctor, your insurance company does not have to pay for your treatment. If your doctor is successful in holding costs down, the insurance company will reward him or her with financial bonuses. If your doctor isn't willing to play by these rules, the insurance company will probably cancel his contract. He will lose you and many other patients – and his livelihood.

Now, let’s assume that you have a sick child. You take your child to your primary care doctor who is associated with the managed care company. Although the doctor makes a diagnosis and prescribes treatment, your child gets sicker. You ask for a referral to a specialist. After discussion and disagreement, the doctor refers your child to a specialist – who is also a member of the managed care plan.

This specialist signed a contract with the managed care entity in which he is forbidden to fully inform you about the treatment options for your child - this is called a "gag order." If you learn about these treatments, you will want them for your child. The best solution from the insurance companies perspective is to keep you ignorant about these treatment options. because your HMO or managed care group does not want to pay for them.

Do you want your sick child treated by doctors who are not permitted to inform you about certain (expensive) treatment options? Of course not! Your child’s health is at stake.

Now, let’s return to your question about independent evaluations. Earlier in this article, you learned that most school psychologists officially consider only child or family factors when they assess children’s learning and behavior problems. Aren’t things different with independent evaluators?

The relationship between independent evaluators and school districts is often similar to the relationship between managed care specialists and insurance companies. In many jurisdictions, people who are on the approved list of independent evaluators have agreed to abide by certain rules. When they perform evaluations on children, they are paid by the school district.
As a parent, you have to ask yourself this question: If my evaluator is paid by the school district, how independent can he or she be?

In our practice, we see cases in which an independent educational evaluator recommends that a child receive more or different special education serves than the district wants to provide. After making pro-children recommendations, these diagnosticians were dropped from the school district’s approved list of evaluators.

Private Sector Evaluations

Get a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation of your child from an expert who is truly independent. The evaluations used to make educational decisions must contain accurate information about what your child really needs – including changes that need to be made in curriculum, teaching methods, and/or school structure. The only people who will provide this information are experts in the private sector.

Low-Cost Evaluations
Many parents of kids with disabilities are financially strapped. Where can you get a quality psycho-educational evaluation of your child - without breaking the bank?

Contact local colleges and universities - if the school has a psychology program, you may be able to get an low cost or free evaluation of your child by a graduate student who is supervised by a professor.

Call child guidance clinics and community mental health centers. Ask about sliding fee scales.

Visit your state Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities for evaluators, academic tutors, advocates, and others who help parents get services for children.

Ask other parents - they are often your best resource. More advice about finding and working with evaluators and consultants.

A Personal Message from Pete & Pam Wright

If you are the parent of a child with special educational needs, you must learn about school culture - how schools work and beliefs held by many school personnel. When you understand school culture, many of the obstacles you face when you advocate for your child will be clear.
Children can do without many things they want and not be damaged. But your child needs an appropriate education. The most meaningful gift you can make to your child is the gift of a good education. This gift will pay dividends for the rest of your child’s life.
Focus on what you need to learn and do to obtain an appropriate education for your child. Good luck!"

** I conduct full psycho-educational evaluations that not only help you understand how your child learns and thinks but I also explain to your child how his/her brain works & ways to work smarter and not harder.  Finally, I go to the school with you to help them understand it is NOT the child or parents fault and steps they, the educators, can help the child.  I am not on school lists for IEEs but if tell the school you want Dr. Jill Lam at Forest Alliance Coaching to conduct the IEE the school district will pay for my services.  Don't forget to check out the links above for a full understanding of shame and learned helplessness.