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By Leslie Lingaas Woodward
Over the years, our committee has learned to strike a balance between informal information sharing, support-type meetings, and more structured programs that feature speakers or demonstrations. The first meeting of the academic year typically is held in October, after families have had a chance to settle into the school routine. At this first "open" agenda meeting, the chair usually asks for ideas about speakers for the coming months and finds out what topics and issues parents would like to address over the coming year.
Because there are often newcomers, introductions are a routine part of meetings. Parents introduce themselves, give their children's names and grades, and describe their learning difficulty.
Open meetings offer a chance to talk about how the school year is going for our children. If things are rough, other parents may have tips on how to smooth the way. We compare notes on how long it takes to complete assignments and what strategies the kids use. We share names of good tutors and computer software programs. Sometimes a parent just needs to vent over the strains of working with her child’s learning disability. A sensitive facilitator can help the group provide support in these situations without getting too focused on any one individual's problems.
Speakers from inside or outside our school community are scheduled on alternate months. Often the second meeting of the year features the school's learning specialists, who describe support programs for kids with LD. The committee also tries to have administrators speak at one meeting each year to talk about programmatic issues that are of particular interest to parents of kids with LD. These might include the use of textbooks versus handouts in certain classes, proposed restructuring of the academic schedule, or course content.
Psychologists and learning specialists from the community have spoken to us on a variety of topics, including the diagnosis and treatment of AD/HD and dyslexia, testing for LD, and high school and college placement of kids with LD. Although we can’t pay them, speakers have been very generous in donating their time. This year, to ensure a good-sized turnout for these events, the committee has decided to open the presentations to parent groups at other city schools.
One of our most popular programs is a simulation of learning disabilities, provided by volunteers for a small fee, through a branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Parents rotate through a set of stations that use audio and visual aids to show what it’s like to have common learning problems, such as difficulty with auditory discrimination, dyslexia, and impaired fine motor coordination.
Support group meetings also offer an opportunity to share information about learning tools parents and kids have found useful. Parents have demonstrated software programs and 4-track recorders used for listening to taped books.
Shepherding a child with LD through the school system takes more than professional support. You can’t be as honest with teachers and tutors as you can be with a kindred parent about your own emotional health. And you can’t call them at night to vent about a particularly grueling evening of homework.
Perhaps most important, parent groups can actually help the whole "village." They often bring about support for all kids, such as effective screening programs, improved reading instruction, and testing accommodations. The strong program we now have is a result of a joint effort that has benefited everyone - kids and parents!
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