New articles for The Educational Therapist, and for Evolved Education--upcoming talk on divorce and children's learning needs.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Me! 

 

            Lily was exquisite.  A fifth grade girl at the most difficult girls’ prep school in the country, she was popular, with a rope of long dark hair behind her back, a high forehead, aquiline nose, and a bearing that always reminded me of Degas’s,  The Little Dancer.   But today, on our first meeting, she had dark circles under her eyes.  Holding an enormous York Peppermint Patty in one hand, and a tissue the other, she went on the attack. 
            “I am a great student. I don’t need help. I don’t want to go to see a therapist. What do you do, anyway?” she demanded, her voice muffled by one of her many colds.

            “I’m an educational therapist.  We are not going to talk about feelings.  WE are going to work on making inferences, writing, and reading together for school.  That’s what our goal will be,” I said.  The school had referred her to me for three times a week remediation.  They were afraid she would suffer shame if her grades didn’t improve in their very competitive environment.  The parents had been told that Lily would have a year to a year and a half to improve her ability to do the work at the school before they decided whether she could stay in the school, and that her work with me would extend over the summer. 

            Lily wanted very much to stay at the school at which her mother and grandmother had gone, at which she had friends, and which was in the middle of the world she knew.  And so she agreed to work with me. 

            Many days were a battle.  Her imperious chin would lift and she would ask me what I knew about the subject we were working on anyway.  She wanted me to be perfect, a perfect font of knowledge and just to tell her the answers.  She would have rejected any answer I gave her, but I never would take the bait.

            “Lily, my job is to help you learn how to do it all for yourself.  And you can.” 

            “I am an excellent student,” she sniffed.  Well, Lily was an average kid, but one with a powerful will and a great need for control.  If she couldn’t fight me, she’d just as often get ill and want to leave the session early.  Or her mother would call her in sick.  As I charge for missed appointments, that behavior soon stopped.

            The school told me that Lily’s absences were very worrying to them. It would be very hard for her to catch up on the work she had missed.  The class might leave her behind.  But I was also told not to let her leave sessions early if I could help it, and to take care of myself with the client, who could withhold payment as punishment for perceived incompetence.

            This was an anxious family with a strong need to be right.  The mother and father were divorcing, and they were bitter enemies.  However, they were very good at sharing responsibility for the children, and at shielding them as much as they could from their anger with each other.  A time of stress for every member of the family, including the grandparents, these parents tried to make sure that the children didn’t pick sides in the divorce, and were adamant about the children visiting their father for regular sleep overs while the decisions of the divorce were being made.

            Lily let me see her anxiety full force in the form of belittling remarks, anger, or complaints of illness.  Truly, she was ill a great deal: headaches would blind her, colds would make her nose run and her eyes tear, she’d get strep throat.  All of this was real illness, and a blessing to Lily, who didn’t know how to express her upset any other way, and who could not speak about what she felt.  She needed to be “fine,” and I encouraged her belief in herself.  At the school’s behest, I brought up what she might achieve with a therapist. 

            “Lily, the good relationship you and I have? It could be like that, but instead of school work, it could be about your feelings.”

            “I don’t need it.  I won’t. I’m not sick.  I’m going through a divorce.”  And in her voice, I heard no anxiety on that score.  She was determined to keep her privacy.

            Over time, I stopped asking.  She’d apologize when she said something angry or sarcastic, and I would say, “Lily, we have such a good relationship that it can stand a little anger now and then.”  And we’d hug.  She took to hugging me every time she arrived and every time she left. 

The remediation had everything to do with finding clue words in text that would supply her with the trail to the deeper meaning of a story, and though that work took a year and a half, it happened.  Her school instruction in language skills was impeccable and the work she brought to us from school was always interesting and challenging. 

Lily had great reserves of strength.  Though she was uncomfortable to be living in a hotel until her new home was ready, she maintained a steady schedule of living with each parent in turn, and they were interested in her every bit of news about school.  They were open to moving her if the remediation didn’t work, and they encouraged Lily to see herself as a success.

            Lily continues to see herself as a strong learner, to be proud of her B and B- grades, sprinkled with an occasional A or C (“Oh, well, I’ll see the teacher and I’ll do it better next time,” she would tell me).  Over two years of reading and writing, she displayed unflagging devotion to getting her work done, to rewriting, retaking tests, and to working on the meltdowns that would have her raging at teachers, who wanted her writing to “go deeper,” or her mother when she couldn’t find her homework (organization of materials was difficult during the brunt of the breakup). 

            This year, Lily sang me a little song about how much she loved her parents.  Her high clear voice rang out over the office so that the other therapists in the suite came to their doors to listen. 

            “She’s adorable,” one suitemate said.

I told Lily the nice things people around me said about her.  Near the end of our time together she told me, “If I have myself, I have everything.”

            Yes.

            Though she can still be withering in her disapproval, I know that when Lily does this she is at her most anxious.  I ask what is bothering her most about the assignment, and she says, “I am afraid that you don’t know enough to help me.” 

            “Lily, you are in a good position now to learn from everyone.  When I can’t help with math or science, then it will be time to get a tutor.  And you can get one now, if you wish.  Why not bring it up with Mom and Dad?”  I say. Her parents are now almost cordial with each other.  The worst is over and they have each done everything asked of them to keep Lily safe from their deep anger with each other.  Lily keeps a picture of her parents at a happier time displayed on her desk.  A reminder that love was once strong, and that though it has changed composition, her broad family is still connected.

            It’s almost time to see her fly away.  When she leaves it will be because she is ready to take more responsibility for herself as a student, as she always knew she could, down deep.  I’d like to stay with her until writing is easier, but it isn’t important.  She is learning from her teachers, and she is nearly ready to go.  She is so excited to contemplate not having to do this work any more, to play soccer, have a subject tutor like all her friends, and to check in with her mother and teachers when she needs help.  She does this regularly, and though her mother says she can melt down angrily when she doesn’t understand the material, what 7th grader doesn’t?  As she likes to tell me, she is normal.  She’ll always be struggling to keep up at her school, but this is where her friends and her family go.  This is her world.  She’ll be fine.

 

No! You Can't Make Me!

 This month, readers, I’m thinking about two or three cases in which middle school children were sent to me for educational therapy during the dissolution of their families.  Yes, divorce--- but acrimonious, asset-driven, furious divorce by parents unable to shield their children from their fighting or their sense of betrayal by the spouse they used to love so well.

My colleague, Jacqueline Newman, Esq., who is a divorce lawyer specializing in collaborate law would say that the parents needed to shield the child from their discord, to be there to parent her, to make sure that all their interactions around the divorce are private, and that when they are together, their demeanor must be cooperative so as to protect the child from heartbreak.

But that is very hard for many parents to do during a bitter divorce.  For divorce, she says, is a return to very primal narcissism, and this inflicts the most lasting damage on children: the inability to put the child’s needs first; the inability to plan a future in which the family may change configuration, but will not break.

Many divorcing parents think they do that and try very hard, but it is also true that many inadvertently slip into making the child their ally.  A woman or man who has devoted the bulk of their time to rearing the child has suddenly lost half an identity as caregiver.  It is also quite possible that the “working” or “earning” parent has had little time to be in the home to spend time with the child day to day.  Finally, it may be that the financial strain of divorce means that giving all the care that the child needs is financially impossible.  Or the will to do it disappears, when the parent may need to believe that a child is fine and will snap out of it, rather than understand the role they have played in the child’s distress.  

 

No, You Can’ Make Me!

 

            “It’s better this way!” Omar said of the brevity of his homework.  He showed me his English homework, which he had reduced to a few sentences that scrawled across a page in phonetically spelled words.  “What’s the point of going on and on?” He was a handsome 4th grade boy, 9 years old, blond, compact, muscular and kinetic.  Owen was diagnosed with ADHD, dysgraphia—which meant both poor handwriting and spelling, but also poor placement of his letters in space, and his decoding was unsteady.  Decoding means the mechanics of matching sounds to letters and reading words with understanding.  Omar understood plenty, and more than he could say.  His parents were divorcing in a process that was like death by pressing.  One rock added at a time to the others atop each other until the people beneath were crushed.  Omar had been told little, but he knew his world was unhinged, and that his parents hated each other.

             A few weeks earlier, Omar’s mother arrived for the intake interview alone, then brought Omar along for a second meeting to see if he and I would connect around the goal of making school easier.  His father came separately.  Omar’s mother and father could not be in the same room together, not even to help Omar get the reading, writing, and organization help that he so desperately needed.  His school, a rigorous boy’s independent school in Manhattan referred the case to me, but told me that I’d need to be extremely careful to make both parents feel heard. 

Of course, I could do that, I thought.  And I could.  During a divorce, it is imperative to treat the parents equally and with the respect they deserve as parents of my student.  They have to be given equal information and brought together by an educational therapist’s communication, for the good of the child.  Omar’s parents were furious with each other, and though they still lived in the same house, they were negotiating a separation. I listened as his mother said that because of the high net worth of the family, the separation was taking place with both parents in the same townhouse.  The father had moved downstairs.  But the divorce negotiations were dragged on for several years and each parent had to keep an eye on negotiating position in the divorce proceedings, which could, if proceedings failed, result in a court battle over the division of assets.  Each parent spoke to me separately of the new love in their lives, and their frustration that they could not take up their relationships publicly.  I wondered how much Omar already felt and knew of his parents’ bitterness.

            Omar was easily bored by homework, and he was angry.  This was easier to deal with than disengagement and so I had great hope that he cared enough about school to let me help him reignite his desire to do well.  But could he do well at his school that prided itself on how many years advanced they were beyond grade level curriculum in each grade.   There were days when Omar arrived and a certain strain in his voice sounded like the anger and sadness I had heard from his estranged parents. 

            “Dad’s an a-hole,” he said matter-of-factly.

            “Omar, I can’t have you use that language about your father here.” Omar shrugged. 

            “Whatever.  I’m not doing any more homework, and you can’t make me,” he said, his voice unemotional.

            “No, I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, Omar.  Not in my power. Don’t you know that?” I said.

 I brought out a balance wheel for him to stand on.  A balance wheel is a nice round platform disc with a half a ball underneath it in the very center of the platform. It’s used in physical therapy and I had bought one after it helped me strengthen my balance in Pilates class.  It’s a great tool for ADHD kids to use to find their breathing and their balance.  Don’t breathe, fall off.  That how it goes.  “You’re a soccer player.  How’d you like to try this ankle strengthener.  Here, I’ll show you a move on it.”  I stood in the center on one foot and glided around in a circle like a ballet dancer, using a simple shift in weight to make the wheel turn.

Omar got on.  “Easy,” he said. 

“I like easy, Omar.  Don’t you?”

“Yeah!” he smiled.  “But I’m on strike and you can’t make me do my homework.”

“Not today?”

“Not, EV-ER,” he enunciated, glaring at me.

“Interesting,” I said, and meant it.

Now all educational therapists are under pressure to transform a kid’s ability to work for a school, and we feel pressure from our client family, from our own inner need to be useful, and from the love of the child before us.  But I can never afford to believe that grades are so important that they have to drive my work with a client. So I bought into Omar’s strike.

            “Oh,” I said.  “I’m glad to know it.  Now we can do things we want to do,” I said.

            “Like what?” Omar looked suspicious.

             “Like this! Catch!” and I threw him a squishy ball.  I keep silly putty, nerf balls, cards and games, all manner of fun things in the office for my own amusement, but I’m not averse to sharing them with a kid in need. 

            “Here’s what you can’t do!” I chortled, “Recite the alphabet in order up on the wheel!” In fact, this was quite a difficult task for Omar at this point in the intersection of divorce and learning disabilities.   But he did it pretty well.

            “Ha,” he said.

            “Ha, yourself.  That was amazing,” I took up my role as cheerleader.  “Bet you can spell some of these problem words you have a quiz on.”

            “Boring.”  He had me.

            “OK,” how about this word!” and I picked words that he’d have to sound out in one of the syllable types he needed to know.  I tried to match patterns with those on his test.

            And little by little we made some progress on decoding that day, and on many other days, using games, word sorts, and anything that he’d agree to for 10 minutes of a session.

            I tried to engage him in writing, which was difficult.  It frustrated him like no other task.  So, I took dictation, read to him, or handed him a very decodable book to read on the balance wheel.  Sometimes I’d read to him after I’d hooked him up to Mindflex, a game in which you use your mind and a battery to lift a tiny nerf ball into the air and move it, while keeping the air stream under it moving with hand controls.  ADHD kids seem born to do this.  Me, not so much.

            “Can you concentrate on remembering the story and keeping the ball in the air? I asked. 

            “No,” he said, but his recall was ok, considering that I’d get nowhere by presenting the story as a memory exercise and therefore, as work.

            And so, the months of that year went by.  One of my goals for this remediation was to be on Omar’s side when his moods were sour or defiant, when he was sure he was never going to come back, when he couldn’t work.  And come back he did.  It’s hard to remember that producing all the work a school wants is not always possible, and that my anxiety about Omar’s ability to do that work must also be Omar’s, at least down deep.  So, I practiced ignoring the pressure just as Omar did, but I told the school and the parents what we were and weren’t able to do on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, Omar let me know that he was in over his head emotionally.  His anger and disengagement seemed productive, though.   He was alive, not despondent, challenging the whole notion that school was important.  And at a time like this, with the trauma of divorce looming, with the temptation to take sides ever present, he was right.  He could show me what was wrong, and he’d let me teach him as much as he could absorb, as long as it didn’t seem like work.  My conversations with his teachers and the head of learning services were frank. They were going to keep Omar; there was no question of having him leave school because of failing grades at a time like this.  They understood, and though the teachers needed to make homework demands, the issue of what Omar owed were tabled.  Gradually, Omar regained his interest in school, and we could work in better earnest on those skills that he was ashamed of: spelling and reading.   I felt strongly that he would do well at school if they could wait a year more for him to heal so that we could see what being with his friends and in his familiar school setting did for and to him.  But the risk was that we spent two years doing impossible curriculum and that we lose the chance to have Omar in a school that he could handle more easily.  He remained far enough behind the class that his parents began shopping for an easier school for him.

And on our last session of the year, Omar brought me a gift.  A small plastic toy soldier about two inches high, perpetually aiming his rifle at an enemy.  I kept it on a shelf for years, where I could see it daily. 

 

New articles on Divorce and Learning Disabilities

I have three new published articles that will appear in The Educational Therapist journal and online with Evolved Education.  Here they are for you to see:  The first article Will Somebody Kill Me?, is about a case I couldn't help, and sometimes we can't. A family isn't ready for our help, or they simply need someone else's input.  The second case, No, You Can't Make Me!,  is a more successful one involving a boy who went on an extended homework strike.  The third, There's Nothing Wrong with Me,  is a completely successful case of helping a child overwhelmed by divorce and in a competitive school.  

 

Will Somebody Kill Me?

This month, readers, I’m thinking about two or three cases in which middle school children were sent to me for educational therapy during the dissolution of their families.  Yes, divorce--- but acrimonious, asset-driven, furious divorce by parents unable to shield their children from their fighting or their sense of betrayal by the spouse they used to love so well. Let none of us mistake this: children know and feel more than we may wish to admit.  So meet the first child: Stella-Mare, Sea Star, a beautiful black child with embellished braids, who, at 7 is nearly five feet tall.        

Stella’s mother is an entrepreneur married to a pediatrician . The police came to their home over a screaming fight that happened while the child was present.  Stella goes to a prestigious private school with warm and concerned teachers, who insisted on a psychiatric evaluation for the child when she rammed a pencil into her thigh during math class.  She remains under psychiatric care for therapy and medication, but her mother does not like the doctor, and feels she is not racially sensitive to the child’s needs even though Stella likes her.

Meanwhile, Stella just can’t do math.  She has little of the number sense we expect from a second grade child.  She can’t sequence the days of the week or the months of the year, and addition doesn’t make sense yet, though she has been tutored now for a year.

Her reading froze in first grade, when her world fell apart.  She is anxious, and she knows that her functioning at school is not the same as that of her peers.  Both home and school have stopped being places of comfort and she requires courage to face the demands of each day.  Her parents may have thought they were helping her by not informing her that her father would be moving out of the house until the day before it happened.

I met with the mother first for an initial consultation, and she told me of her worries about Stella.  I had read Stella’s evaluation, which indicated math and reading difficulty, and disorganization enough to qualify her for extended time on tests.  This case would require close work between psychiatrist and educational therapist, and a great deal of communication with Stella’s parents and school.  Her mother met with me twice and each time hugged me and told me she just knew that I could make Stella’s life better and that it was clear that I understood what to do to help everyone understand what was happening to her daughter.

The trouble was, I hadn’t yet met the child.  My instinct for dissonance fired madly.  If mother “loved” me now without proof that I could help, she might just as easily “hate” me in short order if I disappointed her.  I felt I was being set up by her hopes, fears, and guilt.  If Stella liked me and revealed herself to me, would her parents pull the plug on the remediation?  It had happened before.  Information about Stella’s self-injury did not come from her mother or father, but from the doctor and would therefore have to stay a private communication between the doctor and me.   This often happens, that a school or a doctor is dying to share information that is confidential, and they should, but it places us in a delicate position of not revealing what we know and how we know it.  I solve this by frankly admitting that information has been offered, and by whom.  I want the parents to challenge me early on, and to earn their trust by how I handle confidences of theirs and how well I can normalize their fears for their child, and their narcissistic wounding that says, “My child is a disappointment to me.  I must have been a bad parent.”

 I didn’t know that from Stella’s parents, but Stella’s mom told me she had precipitated the break up of her marriage by having an affair.  A lot of information to divulge on a first meeting. Who was the client?  A little girl or a family?  We educational therapists know that it is never the child alone who needs our guidance but that to be successful with a child we need to help the parents understand what the child’s learning issues are.  During divorce, when sensitivities and fears for the child are heightened by guilt over the changes to come that will cause the child grief, we must be doubly sure to communicate evenly and without bias so that the parents too have a safe place to grieve and then to plan for their child’s needs.

Stella’s mother was a quick study: she developed an action plan after our meetings that was a model of good listening, quick perception, and selective candor about her child’s issues.  Mercy, I reminded myself.  Disclosing this would be difficult for anyone.  Stella’s father is warm and sensitive, easily moved to tears, and both parents promised that they wanted only that Stella be helped to resume learning.  They revealed that Stella wasn’t sleeping at night for fear that people might come to kill her.  She was a child under siege.

“What,” said her parents, “should we do to comfort her?  Can you take up the cause of a child of color?”

The list of things they could try to do differently was very long, but what I said was, “You can tell her that you will protect her.  You can say that you will face the future together and that she won’t be alone.  Say you will keep her as safe as you can from danger.”

I have become certain, with training, that my racism is no different from that of other well-meaning whites, except that I know I am subject to the expectation of privilege, to feel it cutting me off from people I want to know, and I work against it.  I told Stella’s parents that I would give of my very best work, training, and compassion to teach Stella academic skills that would relieve her.  They seemed satisfied.

My colleague, Jacqueline Newman, Esq., who is a divorce lawyer specializing in collaborate law would say that the parents needed to shield the child from their discord, to be there to parent her, to make sure that all their interactions around the divorce are private, and that when they are together, their demeanor must be cooperative so as to protect the child from heartbreak.

But that is very hard for many parents to do during a bitter divorce.  For divorce, she says, is a return to very primal narcissism, and this inflicts the most lasting damage on children: the inability to put the child’s needs first; the inability to plan a future in which the family may change configuration, but will not break.

Many divorcing parents think they do that and try very hard, but it is also true that many inadvertently slip into making the child their ally.  A woman or man who has devoted the bulk of their time to rearing the child has suddenly lost half an identity as caregiver.  It is also quite possible that the “working” or “earning” parent has had little time to be in the home to spend time with the child day to day.  Finally, it may be that the financial strain of divorce means that giving all the care that the child needs is financially impossible.  Or the will to do it disappears, when the parent may need to believe that a child is fine and will snap out of it, rather than understand the role they have played in the child’s distress.  

The day came to meet Stella.  On this third visit, her mother sat close while Stella read to me, frowning.  I would not ask Stella to read much, just a picture book that was rich in illustrations of a brown girl on an adventure, and I provided crayons and paper for Stella to draw her connections to the text afterward.

The decoding was labored but accurate, but then Stella told this story as she drew: 

Once upon a time, there was a butterfly and a bird. Both were beautiful. There was a flower that cried because she loved them.  She told the butterfly and the bird about it. Then the butterfly and flower fell in love.  They only wanted to stay together.  A girl came by and picked the flower.  The butterfly died and flower was dead.  The bird sank down.

Stella hugged me.  Oh, the poor child, I thought.  She thinks her love has caused her parents’ troubles.   Who are her allies, I wondered, even as I made a commitment to become one.  Whatever price concessions this family needed, I would offer.  If I couldn’t connect with Stella in a wholesome therapeutic alliance, I’d help them find someone who could. 

            And so over the next few weeks, I received emails from the mother, detailing her understanding of what we would do in our first meeting with the school, in which the evaluating neuropsychologist and I would assist everyone in coming to grips with Stella’s needs and in agreeing to goals that we would help Stella meet. 

            But, no meeting happened.  Repeated calls and emails asking to take up our work, offering to work at whatever fees the family in crisis would feel comfortable with came to nothing.  The neuropsychologist who referred the case to me said that the family had dropped away without a word. 

            Sometimes, we can’t help even those whom we are best able to help.  A family isn’t ready to hear what we have to say, and our ethical duty is to tell parents the truth of what learning issues, trauma, and anxiety can do to a child, as measured and hopeful as we may be.  Sometimes, we have to trust that the family will find the right help when they are ready, even if they ignore our advice to work as a team with doctors, teachers, therapists, and family to improve the academic life of the child and the atmosphere in which they must contend.

 I have to hope that Stella finds inner resilience that will help her survive and thrive after this terrible passage is complete.  I know the school is sensitive to her needs, and that she is safe to remain there.  I know that my work is good work, but that I am one of many, many good practitioners in New York, and it will have to be enough not to know the outcome of this case.  I will always wonder about her, and be moved by her story, but I must trust that the right educational therapist will be found to help her.

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness in Education

I've just completed a mindfulness in education course from Mindful Schools, and in fact, the personal practice and educational practice lasted 12 weeks in all.  I've been impressed by the effect of mindfulness on stress levels in practitioners and have enjoyed introducing children and adults to this practice at the beginning and end of every session.  

New Online Course Offering by Susan Micari for OfCourse.co.uk

I'm excited to have been asked by Mark Healy of OfCourse to design a web class for parents in the UK and Australia about learning disabilities: what they are, what they look like, and what to do about them.  The class will go live on June 6, 2016.  Do visit the OfCourse and visit me there!  website: http://ofcourse.co.uk/

 

Over Diagnosis Disorder

A colorful, emotional, and creative friend of mine who suffered powerful trauma as a child, both physical and sexual, had a great discussion with me on Monday about how much trouble he has had in receiving the right kind of help from mental health practitioners.  He said, and I agree, that many therapists label clients unnecessarily and often incorrectly.  Why do they do this?  My friend says it is ODD, Over Diagnosis Disorder, on the part of the therapist.  

In my experience many therapists who lack ownership of their own anxieties label clients whether labeling is good for the client or not.  Some clients can be relieved by receiving a diagnosis, but many more are harmed by the label.  There is judgement implied in a diagnosis.  Many therapists label clients because they are having trouble managing their own anxiety about the client.  They may fear that the clients issues are too difficult to treat without a label, they may need to feel superior to their clients, they may need to pathologize the human being with human problems who appears before them well before they know what is troubling that person's soul.

My friend's therapist insisted that he was bi-polar and wanted him to go to a psychiatrist willing to confirm her diagnosis and prescribe powerful drugs.  My friend was devastated by the label and by the drug he was prescribed, and confronted his therapist about her need to label him bi-polar.  

He asked, "Are you bipolar?"

"Yes," the therapist answered.

"Then you take the damned drug.  You also have ODD, Over-Diagnosis Disorder, and I'm getting out of here."

And he was right to do so.  

My friend says he suffers from post traumatic stress over having been raped as a child.  I can well believe him.  Sexual abuse causes disruptions to learning and development, can provoke anxiety and grief that is buried deep in a dissociative fog.  It is a surprise to me how few therapists ask about sexual abuse, and how few are able to treat it.  

My friend channels his great sensitivity and his hopes and his dark experiences into his acting career, where he makes good use of himself and what he knows to help others.  He works out every day, and he takes very good care of himself. He's quite young, and I look forward to following his career.

Susan Micari

Board Certified Educational Therapist

 

Susan to write a column for The Educational Therapist

Deb Fencer, editor if the AET journal, The Educational Therapist, has asked Susan to write a column about how to treat difficult cases.  Susan is thrilled to be given her first writing job!  Stay tuned, and these articles will be posted to the blog, LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as be available at aetonline.org

 

Susan Micari and app designers from Cornell discuss dyslexia research

On Saturday, March 5th, four students from Cornell called Susan for a discussion on dyslexia in order to further their research into developing an email app that would benefit dyslexic readers. The Cornell project team are Angel Wong, Harsha Viswanath,
Shreyas Kulkarni, and Brianna Singer. I spoke with Brianna about the team's project, which is developing Lex: an email client which makes reading and writing emails faster and easier for adults with dyslexia. Thanks to David Orbach for organizing our conversation.

Susan Micari and Marydee Sklar speak about getting ready for school

Susan Micari, Board Certified Educational Therapist and Marydee Sklar, author of Seeing My Time spoke with the Association of Educational Therapists via an international webinar on August 18.  The subject was time management and the anxieties children and parents have about getting back to school.  There were 569 people registered from a dozen countries.  Look for the video on aetonline.org.

New York Times: Letter to the Editor

I have a little response to the recent op ed piece by Vicki Madden in today's New York Times (http://nyti.ms/YCtXct).  She wrote about her experiences at an elite college and the difficulties she had in navigating the environment as a person from a poor rural community.  It's just a small observation about the need for schools to care for kids from backgrounds that differ from those of most of their students.  I was thinking also of Robert Rodriguez's excellent writing about crossing a bridge from his identity as a member of a Spanish speaking family and how he felt to be the interpreter, ambassador, and stranger among his own family after that experience.

It seems to me that we can think of Madden and Rodriguez when we treat kids with learning issues, and must be aware of the interplay between who our students are in their totality and their own abilities to summon the best in them for school.

When I began my work 20+ years ago in a homeless shelter, this was very much the lesson I took away.

Here is my response:

To the Editor:

Vicki Madden’s experience as a student from a rural background at an elite college has an important message to relate to colleges, which need to back up their interest in diversity with support that encourages students to succeed and weather the culture shock of entering an elite college environment.

Many colleges act as if their duty to help students from diverse backgrounds ends when they admit them. As Paul Tough points out in “Am I Supposed to Be Here? Am I Good Enough?” (New York Times Magazine, May 18), colleges that enable students to make sense of their experience and provide peer support help close the grade gap and enable students to finish college. Universities must commit to making the cultural challenges navigable to students; their job is not over at admission.

- Susan Micari

New York, Sept. 22, 2014

The writer is an educational therapist.