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…

Monday, January 21, 2019

Dr. King & Lessons from A Class Divided

I've been so busy working and being the voice of those who are discriminated against that I have not been able to post on here.  I have decided to re-share a past post for my first 2019 post for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

To start, watch-- "A Class Divided." 

Yes, Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes is a powerful video on racism.  It gives insights into the personal experiences of how we discriminate based on the attribute of the color of eyes or the color of one’s skin.  Let’s think outside of the box on this one and see how this is also a great lesson on how we treat people with learning disabilities (Dyslexia, ADHD, Dysgraphia, Asperger’s….) and other types of disabilities (physical, deaf, blind…) in school settings. 

To help you understand this, I’m going to explain it as “Butterflies” vs. “Dragonflies.”  Butterflies are “typical” students who learn easily, have athletic and/or academic talents, and viewed by others as beautiful.  Dragonflies, on the other hand, are students with disabilities and challenges (with or without IEP/504’s); they struggle academically, athletically, socially, and/or emotionally; and are viewed by others as scary, not fitting in, and different.   In school environments, it is often assumed that “Butterflies are better than Dragonflies.” 

The Butterflies are more likely to be given extra opportunities in schools such as crossing guard or member of the student council.  Teachers are concerned if they give Dragonflies positions of responsibilities, they will not be able to handle the job, or the Dragonfly doesn't deserve a reward--so Butterflies get the special treatment.   

Butterflies are picked more often for awards and accolades because they are “easy to teach” and “well-liked by their teachers and peers.”   For more details on this, check out my post on Stop the Shaming: why ceremonies and graduations need to change.  The Dragonflies are often not given these awards and accolades because they are so challenging to teach; they may be experiencing Learned Helplessness (explained in the linked post) from the years of discrimination, shame, and pain that they have just given up trying; they just don’t fit in socially.

Butterflies are given positive reinforcements in the classroom while the Dragonflies often receive negative reinforcements.  When you observe an elementary classroom room where a teacher has a Colored behavior chart, more Dragonflies are on Yellow and Red than Butterflies.    The Butterflies are most likely on Green and get to run particular errands for teachers or get to sit in special places in the room. 

As you can see, the list of the differences can go on and on, yet the key point is how Dragonflies are not just discriminated against by their teachers this treatment is seen as acceptable to their peers as well. Students model the behaviors of the teachers. 

So when thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. today, think about how we still treat students who learn differently (academically or socially) as less than the students who are “Mainstream” learners.  Dragonflies are often excluded from classes that Butterflies receive automatically, such as gym, art, and other electives because the Dragonflies need extra teacher support to learn. Schools require students to take these foreign language classes. Although students with learning disabilities would benefit from Sign Language, it is too much trouble to make this happen, so they just have to struggle (causing emotional pain) or not participate (excluded from a class open to non-disabled peers).  For some reason it seems acceptable to the adults to take away opportunities from Dragonfly students using the reasoning that teachers can’t work beyond school hours, it would cost too much to provide the services, or they don't want to make a specific accommodation.  For more details on this visit, the following post: Dr. King’s Legacy Regarding Discrimination in Education.

So here is my question to you: What are we really teaching our children in schools?  Are we teaching them empathy, or are we teaching them discrimination?  By excluding the Dragonfly students from the events and opportunities that are freely given to Butterflies, we are condoning discrimination.  I am often told that the Butterflies have “earned” these privileges, but the Dragonflies have not so they do not deserve them.  So you really think that because Little Johnny can’t read that he should have to be pulled from gym, art, or recess so he can be taught to read?   By the way, maybe we should go back to teaching students using the Orton-Gillingham reading program- look for this scene in the movie!

Maybe you think it is safer to not have Little Sarah as the library helper because she has impulsive ADHD and may get lost in the hallway or forget what she was doing (or is it really because it would just be easier for you to not have to supervisor her so you will send the “responsible” student).   Then there is the socially awkward student and wanted to be a “student leader,” but you think that a different student would be a better role model (the 'popular' student).  By denying students these opportunities, you are discriminating against them and perpetuating the belief that there really is something wrong with Dragonflies.  

We need to practice lessons we have learned from Dr. King: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character- that is the goal of true education." 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

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

** Please note:  Not all dyslexic brains are the same & Diane Vogel is explaining one way a dyslexic brain processes information.  This may not be the way you or your child experiences dyslexia.  Furthermore, this is not a scientific way of explaining dyslexia -- it is a very simple visual way to demonstrate how the brain processes different information. 

Also, pass out this information from 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 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 backward.  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 about 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 the ways they are a unique individual!  

Monday, September 10, 2018

What to do about Suicide

Today is the start of Suicide Prevention Week 2018.  I am sharing a past post from August 14, 2016.  Both today in 2018 and in 2016 I could write almost the exact same words as I did on May 18, 2014.  Depression and anxiety are real, and we are not doing enough to help people who battle with mental health concerns.  Over these past few years, there have been many stories about children killing themselves.  In my children's own school district there were a few suicides last year and many students with suicidal ideation.  This has to stop.  Adults must keep our children emotionally safe.

Here are the past posts...

From August 14, 2016:
I was thinking about writing something positive and motivating for a Spiritual Sunday post because I've been so busy with work I have not been able to post as often as I want.  Instead, I saw a post about a young boy who committed suicide... again.  He wrote in a note that he was bullied and teachers didn't help. Here's that article: "'I gave up:' 13 - Year-Old boy commits suicide after he claims school 'Didn't do anything' to stop his bullies." 

This breaks my heart!  I just don't understand how the adult who has the power to make life better for children do not step in and really make a difference.  Sometimes adults are the bullies as well.  My biggest concern about this article is it seems the child failed his grade in school.  I see this way too often - students getting failing grades and adults at the school do nothing but let the child fail.  The student is the one blamed for the failure.  This makes me so angry because adults have the power to step in and work on figuring out WHY the student is failing. I will write more on this topic but in the meantime here's the I wrote in May 2014~~

From May 18, 2014:
I woke up today thinking about what I wanted to share on Spiritual Sunday.  It has been a while since I posted a Spiritual Sunday because I've been struggling spiritually.  I just can't seem to understand why people lack empathy. Now, I wake up to read an article in the Columbus Dispatch newspaper about a teenage girl committing suicide and bullying was reported as one of the factors.  Here is the article: Pickerington teen's suicide raises concern: How much was bullying to blame?

My heart is breaking.  I did not know this girl, but I know her pain.  I have felt this pain many times myself.  I work with people who feel this pain or have felt this pain in their past. I wrote about Bullying and Suicide originally on November 19, 2013, after another teen suicide.  I have been making a plea to educators to STOP teaching "Anti-Bullying" programs and start teaching EMPATHY!   What we focus on we expand so if we are focused on bullying we will get bullying if we concentrate on empathy we will get empathy!  I wrote Empathy is the Antidote to Bullying on January 29, 2013, in hopes that we can start making this change.  I'm saddened that we now have lost another unique and beautiful person to suicide. 

Many people struggle with empathy when it comes to a person's depression and/or suicidal ideations.  These topics make people uncomfortable and often the person feeling these ways stays silent, puts a smile on their face, and suffers alone.  They know that no one will really understand or the other person will minimize their feelings.  People need to realize that the person often doesn't really want to die they want the pain to end.  When other's show empathy the pain can stop!!!

(Image: picture of a black & blue dragonfly & quote from Orson Scott Card's book 'Ender's Shadow' - "In my view, suicide is not really a wish for life to end.'  'What is it then?'  'I is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die, but to hide.")

So what can you do about suicide?  You can start paying attention to those around you.  You can start showing REAL empathy.  Know the difference between empathy & sympathy- here's a quick video to help you understand this: 

Remember that you do have the power to make the difference in someone else's life.  You can prevent a person from committing suicide, and you may never know that you did because the person will not tell you they wanted to escape this pain (world).  Often people, like this recent teen, Cora Delille, didn't share her pain overtly with family and friends.  She kept most of her pain silent, but if others have empathy, they will see that she is struggling with something and reach out to her.  If covert bullying (relational aggression) was happening in school then teachers need to be more diligent by watching students interact- there are signs of relational aggression (name calling, excluding, teasing, avoidance behaviors, mean looks...).  If administrators know that a teacher and/or coach is treating a child unfairly and emotionally damaging the child they need to protect the child.  Adults have the power to make positive changes and save the lives of children.
(Image: a silhouette picture of a person sitting holding their knees with their head down and a quote titled 'Be a friend save a life' - "Suicidal thoughts happen when pain exceeds the amount of resources needed for coping. Family and friends are often unaware of the suicidal ideations. If a loved one is depressed or under a great deal of stress, be a resource. Listen to his/her worries, stressors, and fears.  Make no judgments.  Just listen and provide support.") 

Please start paying attention to those around you (especially if they are a student who has learning disabilities - see picture below)! Practice empathy on a daily basis.  Let's teach all our children to be emphatic so they will be kinder to one another.  Please pass this on to help save the life of someone in pain.  Finally, remember I really do care about the lives of everyone and always here.  If you are in pain, know you are not alone!

Here's a link to a recent post about Asking for Help.  This is another critical post for parents!

(Image: student sitting at a computer desk with books in front of him and he is holding his head in his hands looking down as if defeated and a quote from Stephanie Sergent Daniel's article 'Reading Disabilities Put Students at Risk for Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors and Dropping Out of School' - "In our study, poor readers were three times more likely than typical readers to consider or attempt suicide ant six times more likely to drop out of school.  Educators and parents should be aware of the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among adolescents with reading problems.")

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

How students with disabilities are discriminated against in schools - the problem: Ableism

This article is to help you understand that people with disabilities (visible & invisible) are discriminated against and it needs to STOP. 

The REAL problem with our education system isn’t the common core curriculum but ableism.  Ableism like any other “ism” is the belief that abled people are superior to disabled people and the only way to do things (learn, read, walk, see, hear…) is the non-disabled way.  Ableism is a form of prejudice that is not only overlooked but tolerated, condoned, and defended.  

Think about it - how often do schools teach and celebrate people with disabilities?  When schools address diversity they avoid or disregard the diversity of disabilities (actually a form of ableism). 

School districts proudly state they have a culture and climate that supports inclusion but this is not a reality until we openly embrace people of all kinds of disabilities.  

I wrote this article to help you understand ableism in our schools.  Here is a great litmus test – if you replace a person’s color, religion, or gender with a disability in a situation you will come to realize that schools are discriminating against students with disabilities.

·        In order for a student with a disability to receive an appropriate education, there must be proof he has a disability.  Race and gender are no longer allowed to be used to deny a student an education but if a student with a disability does not meet the school’s eligibility requirements then he is denied an education.
For example, Jane has dyslexia which makes it hard for her to decode and keep up with her peers in reading.  Jane did not qualify for special education services because she is passing her subjects and her standardized tests scores are “average.”  The school denies her an evidence-based reading program (explicit, systematic, phonics-based approach) and requires her to learn to read via programs conducive to only non-dyslexic peers.  Umm Ableism!

·        School systems and even some parents tend to focus on “fixing” the student with a disability instead of creating educational environments conducive for all students with disabilities.  The problem lies in the belief that something is wrong with the student with a disability because they do not fit into the ‘abled’ school or social setting. 
For example, Jack not only has learning disabilities but he also experiences anxiety (often this is a result of years of discrimination, being made to feel something is wrong with them, and not being educated appropriately).  Teachers (and other adults) believe that Jack should learn information in the way they are teaching and function like his non-disabled peers.  These assumptions cause teachers to focus on “fixing” Jack by forcing him to do things their way – be it eye-reading, handwriting assignments/test, speaking in front of others…  The goal is to create an all-new Jack, one that looks, acts, and learns like his non-disabled peers.  Is this okay?  How would you feel if white teachers focused on teaching African American students how to look, act, and behave white so they would “fit in?” 

·        Referring to a person having a disability as just having a ‘difference’ is ableism.  Using the label of ‘difference’ does NOT take away the disability.  Instead of empowering a person by using the word ‘difference’ the person is actually being marginalized.  When students are told about their disability and it is acknowledged, they experience less shame.  Students with disabilities are well aware of how different they are from their non-disabled peers.  Minimizing their disabilities as just a ‘difference’ causes students with disabilities more difficulties.  Often it is a parent pushing for the label of ‘difference’ because the parent is struggling to come to terms with their child not being ‘normal.’  “See my child isn’t abnormal she is just different.”  The same can be said for the person who refers to themselves as not having a disability but only having a ‘difference.’  Denying the disability is the same as denying one’s gender or race – we are what we are! - Learn why the word disability is better!

·        School counselors and teachers tend to believe that a good way to include students with disabilities is to have a “Buddy” program where non-disabled students are paired up with students with disabilities.  Hmm, let’s put this program to the test- would it be appropriate to assign non-white students a white “buddy” so they can be included in the majority white mainstream culture?  No, this would be racist! 

·        Anti-bullying programs are everywhere (which are actually counterproductive by the way – here’s what works better).  Sadly, students with disabilities are often the target in bullying situations and school staff members condone the behaviors of the bullies.  If the student being bullied does not fit in as ‘normal’ than these students are blamed for causing the problem.  Parents of students with Asperger’s or on the Autism Spectrum are often told by school counselors and teachers that the student would benefit from social skills counseling.  The goal here is to get the student with a disability to fit in so THEY no longer are the target of the bullying behaviors.  What if a student was being bullied because of his religion?  Would it be appropriate to tell the parents of a Jewish student they need to take their child to counseling so the child can learn ways to fit in with his Christian peers?  

·        School districts require students to learn a foreign language but most refuse to offer American Sign Language as an option.  Students with learning disabilities especially language processing disabilities and dyslexia struggle with learning the English language but are forced to participate in classes where they will not be successful and are informed that no accommodations or modifications can be provided (I’ve been told this one personally).  This is actually discrimination.  When parents request their child be provided a more appropriate course, parents are told they must find and pay for the course themselves.  What happened to free and appropriate education here?  Furthermore, isn’t the school supposed to be a safe environment for students?  By forcing students with disabilities that impede their ability to learn a foreign language to meet foreign language requirements the school district is causing unnecessary emotional distress. (Universities like Yale even exempt students with dyslexia from the foreign language requirement - taking foreign culture instead so why can't high schools?)

·        When teachers tell parents that Little Johnny would be doing much better in class if he could just stay focused is ableism.  Little Johnny has ADHD and he does not need to be cured with medication or more discipline.  What Little Johnny needs is understanding and accommodations.  Telling him to “just try harder” is discrimination.  Assuming he is lazy is ableism – he has a disability and yet he is expected to behave as if he is ‘normal.’   Negative comments like these are actually attacking Little Johnny’s self-esteem and in turn, makes the ADHD worse.  Students with anxiety, depression, and other disabilities experience more negative judgments than their non-disabled peers.  Instead of embracing and understand the individual students, school staff members are discriminating against the students who don’t fit in or are more difficult to teach.  Hmm, what if school staff members said these judgmental comments to students based on their race, gender, or religion?

Are you aware that inclusion is NOT really inclusion and here are some examples of students with disabilities being excluded:

Did you know that students with disabilities that require them to receive more individualized support for their disability are excluded from extracurricular classes such as art, gym, music, or even recess?  These classes and activities are a great way for students to interact with each other, build social skills, self-esteem, and feel included.  Research has shown that the social and emotional health of students with and without disabilities has a direct impact on their academic success. A school would never be allowed to use race, gender, or religion to exclude a student from classes and activities but do it daily to students with disabilities.

School districts "must ensure that children and youth with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the program or activity of the school including extracurricular activities."  Too often children with disabilities are excluded from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities by coaches and teachers.  For example, it is discrimination if a student with anxiety is denied playing time in a sport because of his/her anxiety.  It is emotionally damaging and increases a child's anxiety to have to sit on the bench while all other players get an opportunity to play yet this exclusion is often condoned by coaches and school administrators. For more examples and more details regarding the discrimination of students with disabilities in extracurricular activities read the Office of Civil Rights Department of Education Dear Colleague letter.

Furthermore, schools have a minimum GPA requirement for a student to participate in sports with no accommodation for students with disabilities. This is often a state rule but schools do have the power to make some adjustments based on the individual student.  Sometimes a student is trying exceptionally hard academically and they just can't meet the grade expectations so they are punished by not being allowed to participate in sports. Denying these students the opportunity to participate in sports because they are not successful academically is discrimination and ableism! The Department of Education agrees that students with disabilities should NOT be discriminated against and allowed to participate in sport. Furthermore, even the NCAA understands that not all athletics will meet academic eligibility, here's an excerpt & link: "For academic eligibility purposes, the NCAA defines an education-impacting disability (EID) as a current impairment that has a substantial educational impact on a student's academic performance and requires accommodations." I have written frequently about how it is NOT okay for teachers and school districts to allow students to fail: Why are students failing if schools are required to provide a free and appropriate education? and Students don't fail, the education system is failing our students!

What you should be able to notice in this article is how able-entitlement is one of the problems.  When you are able – able to walk, read, talk, see, and are free from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression… you assume that everyone else can do what you do and if they do things differently than they are doing them wrong.  You believe that your way is the best way despite research providing evidence to the contrary. 

School staff members must realize that ableism is a form of discrimination and prejudice against students with physical, mental, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.  Ableism is characterized by the belief that these students can be fixed, are not as capable as their non-disabled peers, and would be successful if they would only try harder, focus more, learn in the way their peers are learning, or build up their own self-esteem and self-worth. Adults have the power to make or break a child and sadly, students with disabilities are often broken by being discriminated against.  Research studies have provided evidence that people who are discriminated against have more mental health issues, lower self-esteem, and increased amounts of anxiety and depression.

School districts boast that they are opening and accepting of all students, celebrate diversity, recognize multicultural concerns, and have a mission to facilitate maximum learning for every student.  Sadly students with disabilities are excluded in all ways.   

Finally, as a person who focuses on the positive and strength of the student I have no problem with the term disability but I prefer to use appropriate labels – Autism, Asperger’s, Anxiety, ADHD, Depression, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia….   Teach students to work to their strength and stop trying to make them all fit into a mold of ‘normal.’   When teaching about diversity include people with disabilities.  Remember excluding or ignoring students with disabilities IS ableism.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

6 Ways to build Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance in your child at home

Over the last few days, I have received numerous phone calls, emails, and private messages via my Facebook pages (The DragonflyForest, Forest Alliance Coaching, & Decoding Dyslexia OH).  The post on Learned Helplessness resonated with so many people.  There was a general consensus that the primary source of a student developing learned helplessness is in the school environment and that is the primary environment that needs to be changed.  The most frequently asked questions related to how, as a parent, can we help our children survive; build grit, tenacity, & perseverance; and heal the wounds that are already established.  This post will provide some insight into what a parent can do at home.

Here are some tips I give parents when helping coach them on raising a child with a learning disability:

Grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” 

1~Praise children for their effort, not the end product or results.  For example, when learning something say things like “Wow, I like how hard you worked on that problem,” “I enjoyed watching you put so much effort into your project,” or “You did a great job sticking to the problem after not being able to solve it.”  Your child needs to hear you say… “We all fail and make mistakes what matters most is getting back up and trying again with new lessons learned.”

2~   Discuss how life is about learning all types of lessons, and the goal isn’t to get good grades it is to learn, develop, grow, improve, and change.  When your child fails, focus on what lessons were learned from the failure and how to prevent these from happening again.  Remind your child about how Thomas Edison didn’t fail thousands of times before he successfully invented the light bulb he learned a thousand ways his inventions didn’t work, but he persevered and finally found had success.

3~  Watch movies that demonstrate tenacity such as: "Rudy," "A Bugs Life," "Finding Nemo," "True Grit," "Karate Kid," "The Pursuit Of Happyness," "Little Giants," "The Rookie," "Remember the Titans"…. Geez just about any movie because they all follow the 'Hero’s Journey.'  

4~    When watching these movies (or eye/ear reading books) point out the theme of the 'Hero’s Journey.'  Remind your child that they too are on their own 'Hero’s Journey.'  Point out how on every journey the hero must experience a variety of trials and tribulations.  Although they are not pleasant to experience, these obstacles make the hero stronger and better .  Help your child see how his/her own life is on the Hero’s journey path in all different areas.  If your child has a character from a movie or book, they admire point out how this character perseveres and “keeps swimming.”  (Dory from Finding Nemo is one I admire!).  In therapy sessions and when coaching clients, I frequently teach Joseph Campbell’s' Hero’s Journey' and help clients see how it relates to real life.

5~    Be a good role model for your child and point out times you want(ed) to give up but persevered. This shows how you have/had grit and tenacity. 

6~    Finally, allow them to express their feelings.  Children will be frustrated when they go through their own trials and tribulations so they will want to vent these frustrations.  When your child does vent he/she may not do so in a productive way.  Your child may throw a tantrum, stomp around, or display a bad attitude.  Ignore these behaviors for the most part (don’t allow holes to be punched into walls) because you don’t want to focus on the anger.  Instead, you want to focus on how despite feeling frustrated your child is trying.  Yes, stomping and banging the table while doing math problems is trying.  Focus on how much you appreciate the effort.  When your child is in the heat of venting emotions is not the time to discuss more appropriate behaviors.  Give your child some space and once your child is calm and more relaxed thank them for the effort to make some progress.  Remind your child it is not about a final destination but the journey and how he/she has made some progress on the journey.  

These are just a few examples of ways I work with parents on helping their child develop tenacity.   Another key to helping your child is to finding something, anything that he/she does well.  Every child needs to be actively involved in things they CAN do, so help your child find things he/she is good at doing.  Every person is good at something – if you need help in this area please feel free to contact me and I’ll help you figure out what your child may be good at doing. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Life Lessons from The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings: Must See Movies

*Reposted from December 29, 2013, with a new video added to the bottom~

I was finally able to squeeze “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” into my schedule.  Those who know me, know that I LOVE everything about The Lord of the Rings trilogy & The Hobbit movies and books (btw I ‘ear-read’ most books- which means I listen to them on audio, usually while driving).  

What you probably don’t know is why I love these adventures.
These are perfect tales of the Hero’s Journey.  As a therapist, one of my favorite things to do is coach others on their own Hero’s Journey and these movies & books are great examples of the lessons we all need to learn. 

Here are a few of those lessons: 

~~We should focus on a person’s strength not weaknesses. Hobbits (be it Frodo, Sam, or Bilbo) may be small but they are cleaver, courageous, and know the value of friendship.

~~We should value mentors and become a mentor to others.  Gandalf is a perfect mentor.  He can see the strength and potential in Bilbo and Frodo.  Gandalf not only tells them that he believes in them but also pushes them out of their comfort-zones so they can reach their potentials.  By having a strong mentor like Gandalf, both Bilbo and Frodo begin to have faith in themselves.  Everyone deserves to have a mentor in their life so go out there and be a mentor to someone; it makes the world a better place. 
~~Too much of something isn’t good for you.  Dwarves are obsessed with gold (& jewels) and King Thror is so obsessed that he ends up losing his whole kingdom (& thousands of people) because another obsessed creature, the Dragon Smaug.  These are examples of how an obsession causes negative events: Gollum and his precious; Thorin’s desire for the Arkenstone Gem over the lives of others; and Saruman and his quest for power.

~~Being vulnerable makes you strong, not weak.  When we believe that helping others causes us to be vulnerable we not only lose support but we also lose trust.  The Elves didn’t want to risk losing some of their own kind to help the Dwarves so later the dwarves refused to support and help the Elves.  Sam doesn’t want to be vulnerable to Gollum but without his help Sam and Frodo would not have been able to complete their adventure.  This does not mean that you blindly trust others.  Keep your guard up but allow yourself to be vulnerable once in a while so you can become successful.  Don’t be so full of yourself and think you can do it all alone. 
~~It is the experiences we have in life that build our self-esteem and our confidence.  When we overcome an obstacle, hurdle, or quest we change and become stronger.  Sometimes the most difficult challenges are the most rewarding in the end.  There are so many examples of how the characters (Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pip, Bard, the Dwarves…) become better and more self-assured after each challenge.  We need to remember these examples when were are in the middle of one of our own battles because it is often hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel but there will be a light if we keep moving forward. 
~~The way to obtain success when in the mist of chaos is by having tenacity, girt, and perseverance.  Giving up and quitting will not allow you to conquer your demons whatever they may be.  Again, there are countless examples of how each character used tenacity, grit, and perseverance to achieve goals and become successful. 

I use this story (and many others) in my life to help me stay motivated on my own Hero’s Journey.  When times get tough, I seek inspiration and guidance in quotes.  Here’s one of my favorites from each film:

Tell me, when did we let evil become stronger than us?” ~ Tauriel (The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug) 
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay... small acts of kindness and love.”  ~Gandalf (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) 
 “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” ~ Galadriel (LOTR – Fellowship of the Ring) 
That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” ~ Sam (LOTR- The Two Towers) 
This day does not belong to one man but to all. Let us together rebuild this world that we may share in the days of peace.” ~ Aragorn (LOTR – the Return of the King)

**Yes, I had to add Viggo!

I know that each movie is long but trust me they are worth watching.  Here’s the trailer of the most recent Hobbit:
(the direct link if you do not or cannot see the video here)

**Update- here's the most recent movie trailer: 

(The direct link if you do not or cannot see the video here)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The importance of changing Learned Helplessness in students with disabilities

RE-SHARING!!!  This is so important to understand please pass-along to anyone who works with kids!

Why do some students with learning disabilities (LD) succeed while others appear unmotivated, fail, or drop out?  The answer is quite simple.  The LD students who are more successful have grit – tenacity.  The LD students who are not achieving academic success have developed learned helplessness.  Students do not develop learned helplessness because teachers and/or parents coddle the students, do things for them, or make things too easy.  Learned helplessness is a condition in which the student has come to believe that he/she is helpless in a situation and events are out of his/her control. Learned helplessness is so damaging to a student and is the reason many quit rather than try harder, procrastinate, and even experience emotional problems. As an Educational Coach, Therapist, and Psycho-educational Diagnostician I will enlighten you on learned helplessness and changes that need to be made to help all LD students. 


Decades ago, a psychologist, Martin Seligman, performed some experiments on dogs. Here’s the abridged version.  The researchers put dogs into different situations where they were placed in cages (shutter boxes).  Some dogs were placed in a cage where they received an electric shock but were able to end the shock by pressing a lever, while other dogs were placed in a cage where they experienced random shocks but had NO ability to make the shock stop or escape.  The dogs who had some control over their negative experiences recovered quickly but the dogs who could not escape or stop the pain learned to be helpless, gave up, and displayed clinical depressive symptoms.   Later the dogs were placed 
in another box and only needed to jump over to the other side to escape the pain.  The dogs who learned they could control their environment jumped over the small barrier quickly.  The dogs who had no control over their situation continued to display helpless behaviors and instead of escaping the situation they just laid down and whined; they didn’t even try.   Would we call these dogs lazy, unmotivated, or coddled?  No, we would not, the dogs had learned to be helpless.  No matter what, they could not change their environment or situation even if they had a desire to change– they were stuck. 


More research has occurred over the past decades focused on learned helplessness and we have discovered that it happens in humans as well.   We are now able to understand why kidnap victims do not seize the opportunity to escape or why a battered spouse stays in an abusive relationship.  We also now understand why some students with LD give up.  

When students attend school, they are stuck.  The law says that a student MUST be in school and unless you are homeschooled you cannot just leave when you are feeling scared, vulnerable, stupid, or sometimes even sick.   Classroom management techniques are designed to assure that the teacher has all the power so students are controlled.  Granted, these classroom management techniques are often necessary but think about how similar they are to the cage the dogs were stuck in – quite similar in fact but with windows and more people.  

Now, some of these students will experience a great deal of negative pain while in these classrooms because they have LD.  They will watch other students grasp concepts and ideas quicker and with ease while they struggle.  These students with LD will also watch teachers praise and give positive attention to students who are being academically successful but they themselves cannot seem to achieve this academic success no matter how hard they try.  Often despite trying exceptionally hard, teachers send clear messages to these students that they are perceived as lazy, unmotivated, not working hard enough, not working up to their potential…  Wow, more shocking pain that they cannot escape and these LD students experience intense shame (Shaming needs to stop post).   

Students with LD often have the intellectual capabilities to be academically successful but have a false perception that they lack these abilities and have learned that trying hard or putting in effort has no positive effect.  Remember, a student’s perception is his/her reality.  So, even if they are gifted and LD they may still experience learned helplessness.  Learned helplessness undermines the student’s motivation to learn, reduces the student’s ability to learn, establishes ineffective learning strategies, and deteriorates school performance.

Over time these students with LD end up just giving up and accepting their fate that they are stupid, will never learn, or will always fail anyway so why try.  This is why there is a high dropout rate by the way!  And let’s not forget that with these feelings of learned helplessness are other problems such as anxiety, depression, stress, suicide…   Which is why I work hard to help teachers understand that students should never be labeled as a student with a behavior problem or lazy – the behaviors are a symptom of a deeper issue and behaviors often stems from learned helplessness and shame. 


Studies have provided evidence that the teacher-student dynamic is a major factor that contributes to the development and maintenance of learned helplessness.   This is not because teachers intend to create this environment for students but because when the student struggles and displays learned helplessness behaviors, positive reinforcements and support seldom occur.   An LD student experiencing learned helplessness will not be motivated to do better by receiving bad grades which often is frustrating for the teacher who in turn give up on trying to even help the student.  Let’s face it, teaching students who are motivated is much easier than teaching students who struggle and display self-defeating behaviors.

Ways the system needs to change:
Teach and embrace differences.  Many schools have been willing to focus on cultural and racial diversities yet few focus on learning diversities as a whole.  Some teachers are educating their students in their own classrooms about learning differences and the importance of accepting how everyone learns but this is hardly done at a district level.  School districts are focused on Academic Excellence- praising and rewarding students and teachers who are high achievers.  Yes, we want students to be achieving but school districts are “doing it wrong.”  Success in school should not be defined in regards to high scores but instead, success should be defined as progress and improvement.  Improving the academic knowledge and self-esteem of students should be the focus of all education.  School districts also need to eliminate the shaming – discussed here: Stop the shaming post.        
School districts need to stop being afraid of the numbers (amount of students in special education) and just do what is right for all students!  I’m frequently in school meetings where I hear principals, school psychologists, or special education directors tell parents that their child doesn’t qualify for services.  This is often because the student “fits in the box” of average and therefore does not need the extra support services, accommodations, or intervention programs the parents (and myself since I diagnosed the student with a disability) believe are necessary.  We are not wanting arbitrary services and supports.  We see the struggles the child is dealing with.  We are standing outside the cage watching the child disintegrating from the pain and are trying to prevent learned helplessness.  It can be extremely frustrating watching the school district continue to press the shock button over and over and refusing to help stop the pain.  By the way, I have never met a parent who has asked the school for help when the child did not need the help but I have experienced many school district refuse to provide help when it is explicitly clear what needs to be done. 
Teachers need to stop using red ink all over the papers!   When teachers focus on errors, they are teaching students that failing is wrong/bad and that it isn’t okay to make mistakes.  In reality we really do learn more from the mistakes we make than the things we get right so we need to help students embrace errors.  The score at the top of the paper should be the number the student received correct.  The answers the students got wrong should be identified and the students should be taught how to go back over their mistakes, relearn (or be retaught) the material, and correct the mistakes. This technique should be taught as early as kindergarten and continue until the student graduates cause the goal is for students to learn, isn’t it?   Some students will need to be re-taught the material they missed in a different way because what the errors (poor grades) tells us is the student has failed to learn the information.   Sometimes teachers have gotten into the habit of thinking that the F means that the student has failed to study, or the student failed to listen, or the student has failed to apply him/herself, or the parents failed to do their part… 
This leads me to the next important thing that needs changed - blame.  To learn everyone needs to participate, the students, parents, and most importantly the teachers.  The teachers are the leaders here and if a student is not progressing and improving in their learning most of this responsibility needs to fall on the teachers shoulders.  I have heard many teachers place blame on the students and/or parents.  When a student struggles with learned helplessness the teacher needs to add specific strategies to help guide the student out of their perceived electric cage.  Most students with learned helplessness require a teacher to be explicit in their instructions and take time to meet with the student one-on-one to provide assistance.  Remember, an LD student hears comments such as “Your written response is sloppy and poorly written” as criticism (an electric shock) so focus on positive constructive comments such as “Let’s think of another way to answer this problem.”  This demonstrates that you, as the teacher, really do care and are willing to help alleviate the pain.  This does not mean that you as the teacher are doing the work.  You are guiding the student on how to do the work, rewarding them for their effort, and providing the student an opportunity to feel success. 
Remember that students with learned helplessness have learned to just give up so they may be resistant to help.  Think of them as a traumatized dog that just left the cage and the shocks were conditioned with human contact – the dogs will then avoid humans.  So when interacting with these students focus on the things the student does well and avoid focusing on what they are doing wrong or it will only make them more resistant and have increased avoidance.  I coach many LD students with learned helplessness and know that they do not want to have failing grades, they don’t want to feel stupid.  These students really just want the pain to stop but have no idea how.  Parents often try to help but they often have to spend their evenings trying to glue pieces of their child’s shattered self-esteem back together (these students frequently come home and let out all their anxiety, fears, and frustrations).  Teachers can help alleviate this pain.  One of the common themes in LD students with grit, is they had at least one teacher/mentor who believed in them so they in turn started to believe in themselves.  They had teachers/mentors who never gave up on them even when the times got tough and helped teach them that failing doesn’t make them a failure.  We all need people in our lives to help instill motivation, especially these students with learned helplessness.

Finally, we need to change the structure of our educational system to include instructions on developing grit and tenacity.  To be straight forward here – schools should focus less on developing new curriculums like the “Common Core” and put more energy into developing programs to teach grit, tenacity, and perseverance.  To learn more about this read, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21stCentury.  

Just think of how much better a school district would be if they could actually educate students to be successful in the world by having a positive self-esteem and grit.  I hypnotize that our prison population would decrease and we would have more productive high achieving citizens. 

Here is an activity that is similar to the one I do when teaching college classes and for professional development workshops for schools it's only a few minutes long and is a great example of how easy it is to develop learned helplessness. (if the video doesn't appear below click the link to get to the video)

(Image below: picture of an adult female sitting with her arm around a young male who is looking at a book and has a distressed look on his face.  A quote from Sutherland & Singh's book 'Learned Helplessness and Students with Emotional or Behavioral Disorders: Deprivation in the Classroom-' "Students who are repeatedly exposed to school failure are particularly at risk for the development of learned helplessness." Then my explanation of learned helplessness from the research - "How to know if a student is experiencing learned helplessness: *Takes little independent initiative * Prefers easy problems & avoids hard problems * Makes negative or degrading comments about own ability *If fails one part of a task is certain to fail entire task *Gives up easily *Stops trying or avoids difficult academic work *Does not respond with pride when talking about academics *Does poorly despite having ability)

References if you need them:

Schunk, D. H. (1984). Sequential attributional feedback and children's achievement behaviors. Journal of Educational Psychology 76(6), 1159–1169.
Seligman, M.E.P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H.Freeman.
Sutherland, K.S., & Singh, N.N. (2004). Learned Helplessness and Students with Emotional or Behavioral Disorders: Deprivation in the Classroom. Behavioral Disorders, 29(2), 169-181.
Tollefson, N. (2000). Classroom applications of cognitive theories of motivation. Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 63-83.