I have over the years written here about our sons and their struggles and triumphs with education. Joe was diagnosed with ADHD at 8, and then we discovered he also had some dyslexia-adjacent issues with math (dyscalculia) and writing (dysgraphia). When our youngest was 9, we learned he had severe dyslexia and needed immediate, intensive tutoring or placement at a specialized school to remediate these issues. It was hard to take in all this information as a parent. It was harder still to recognize and accept that our sons were atypical. They struggled to thrive in a traditional school setting. Whether we liked it or were comfortable with it or not, our sons needed something else.
To that end, we placed them in a special school for kids with learning disabilities. They started when they were in 4th and 6th grades, respectively, and they improved so much in this new paradigm that we moved them to a high school that allowed them to continue along this same pathway. Our recognizing and accepting our children as they were and where they were changed their trajectory entirely. We knew they needed help. We also knew we had no clue how to help them. So we found people who could.
Now, we were in the fortunate position to be able to afford a specialized education for them, and I recognize not everyone has the means we had to make a difference for them. Before we had them in private school, we used our insurance plan to get them occupational and speech therapy. After that, we tried private tutoring, but the overwhelm for them of trying to keep up in traditional school plus spend hours a week with a tutor was untenable. They were exhausted and frustrated with being “different.” So we looked for schools that would use school time for the catch-up help they needed. And, again, we were in the fortunate position to find not one, but two, such schools in our metropolitan area. These schools, with their student bodies comprised entirely of kids just like our boys, helped them see their own potential and proved to them that they weren’t anomalies. This made them feel capable and it taught them how they learned and how they could advocate for themselves to get what they needed in other settings as well.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how parents of younger children handled working at home and having their kids do school from home during the pandemic. I believe a lot of families have spent the past two years struggling with their children as they tried to learn and complete work at home rather than in the school settings they were accustomed to. I found a perspective piece in the Washington Post that seems to suggest as much. I assume some parents, when witnessing firsthand their students learning at home, may have realized for the first time that their child or children have difficulties learning that they were unaware of. While it is hard to determine the exact number of atypical learners because not everyone who struggles has been properly diagnosed, the statistics run somewhere between 10-20% of all individuals. Not every child is cut out for traditional education. Some need something different or, at the minimum, some extra attention. And not every child will go on to higher education. Some children will excel at trade schools or art schools or in local, associates degree programs. There are many paths through this life, but every child should be getting the help they need to get through their formative educational years. No child should be struggling because they have brain differences that make learning in the traditional paradigm less than optimal.
Our schools are struggling. I read just today that an estimated half of teachers are looking for an off-ramp from their teaching careers. Not only do we need to attract more people to the teaching profession and increase pay to retain the quality teachers we have today, we also need to bring in professionals to help the kids who are getting lost, be it due to learning disabilities, poverty issues, or social issues. We are failing our children. Every day I am grateful our sons were to be born into a family where they were able to get all the extra help they needed to grow, thrive, and move forward with their dreams. I wish other children had the same access to the type of schooling our sons received. We have so many issues in our country right now, but the children who have lost time in their education due to Covid, who might also be battling other issues outside their control, will still need to launch into their futures someday. I hope we find solutions for them or this latest generation might come to be known as the lost generation.