It is no surprise that struggling students need extra support, however adding these extra supports often takes the place of classes where these students excel and enjoy. Think about that…Imagine that inorder for you to do your job effectively you are asked to sacrifice something that you love to do; fishing, boating, yoga, working out, no wonder students that have learning disabilities describe disliking school so much. We are in their eyes “stealing” the joy out of these fundamental times of their adolescence to account for extra class time to bridge their learning gaps while making school an even less enjoyable environment for them in the process.
Several years ago I had the privilege of catching a great documentary called “I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That: A Film for Families About Learning Differences”. This film not only had me captivated but in tears listening to the students openly talk about their struggles and opening up about what they were amazing at that had been taken away to allow time for support to help their learning struggles. The idea that stuck with me the most was listening to the children change the language around their deficits. These brilliant and resilient children were not claiming to have a “disability” they all believed that disability means I CAN’T. I have a learning difference that just means I learn differently than you do. I immediately sat back and thought about how changing this phrase alone had made these remarkable children change their outlook on their struggles and view them as a strength not a burden.
After the film concluded I knew in an instant I had to sit down and watch this with my own child, who had recently been identified with a Specific Learning disability in reading. Like the children in the documentary, Gavin had asked me similar questions. “Mom, what is wrong with me?” “Why has school gotten so hard?” Gavin was ready to throw in the towel and we had just begun to understand his learning difference and how to help him.
My family sat down one evening and watched “I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That” and I watched as Gavin smiled and shook his head while listening to the children describe their situations. After the documentary concluded, Gavin looked at me and said, “so I am not broken am I?” I immediately burst into tears and replied, “No, buddy you are not.” He said I just have to do things in a different way. This documentary changed my son's outlook on his new learning challenge. From that moment forward Gavin refused to use the word “disability” he called it a learning difference. Gavin took the information he learned from this documentary and made it his new way of looking at school. Gavin took every moment as a teachable moment to educate others about his learning difference and the learning differences of others.
Advocating had become Gavin’s weapon to fight back against his disability and I credit showing him the film as his motivation to never give up. As Gavin continued through school like others had described he was asked to forfeit elective classes that he enjoyed so he could accommodate an extra math class or language arts class. Gavin would agree as long as he could have one class that he enjoyed. Gavin figured out early on in highschool career he wanted a career in skilled trades. Gavin pursued his dreams explaining the exact motivation he had gained from listening to the stories within the documentary. Gavin has never been happier in his career and never let his learning struggles stand in his way.
If you would have asked me eleven years ago if I thought a documentary could change someone's life I would have said no, but after watching “I Can’t Do This I Can Do That: A Film For Families With Learning Differences” I have changed my mind. This film played such a huge role in changing not only my perspective but my family's perspective around learning differences and I encourage anyone who has a child who is struggling to sit back and watch this film together or others like it. Learning as much as we could about Gavin's learning difference was the best tool we could have given him. Knowledge is power and teaching him about his differences made him less frustrated and more empowered.
Many times we forget about how struggling everyday can make students feel. Find joy in learning about one thing, whether it be academic, fine arts, sports or some other area. Once students can find joy again while learning, the rest seems less overwhelming. If you would like help supporting your students Patins has specialists avaible in many different areas. It is as simple as completing a TA request. Guide them, encourage them and help them understand what their learning difference means. Knowledge is power and once the student truly understands their difficulty they are more willing to work to overcome it instead of throwing in the towel.