Matt’s Story

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Matt’s Story

Grade: 10

I was diagnosed in grade 3 with a learning disability. I have a stutter and my feelings during this whole process were very up and down, sometimes it was good and sometimes it was bad. There were times where it was really difficult dealing with my learning disability. Sometimes you feel really down and like you just don’t want to do anything but you know you have to keep moving forward.

 I believe my greatest strengths are my writing abilities, I really like to write things and sometimes I cannot get my words out talking. While I’m writing, the words just flow out of my mind. Talking sometimes is not very successful for me. In school I feel like I really succeed in class that are hands on or a lot of writing. In my construction and auto class I am very successful with working with my hands. English class I succeed very well at too because I like writing and am very good at it, it’s proven in my marks. 

My learning needs are to have a lot of independent work, and I need to be away from distractions. Sometimes on tests and work sheets I need some extra time. I need explanations from teachers. There are quite a few difficulties I am faced with at school, those difficulties are my stutter it’s very hard to do anything oral in school. Speaking out answers, reading from the textbook or reading aloud. Another difficulty I have is distractions in class; I need sometimes to be put by myself to do independent work. Learning needs that I have are for teachers to understand and adapt to my needs and they need to work with me and go over things thoroughly.

 Strategies I have learned to help me succeed in school are to do a lot of independent work. I need to ask questions and talk with the teachers to tell them about my difficulties. I’ve learned some ways and triggers to my stutter but not many. I’ve had to do as little talking in school as possible to help me. It helps me a lot more to write out all of my work and answers rather than answer stuff orally. My educators have helped me by allowing me to be put in less stressful situations for speaking orally. The teachers don’t make me talk aloud in front of the class and it helps me a lot. Some of my educators really show that they care about me and want me to be successful and live up to my full potential. The support I have really makes a difference and they are always giving me new ways to help me succeed and deal with my learning disability to let me be successful in school.

Something teachers really need to understand that’s very important is that students with learning disabilities don’t all learn the same. Students with learning disabilities need to figure out what will help them personally in the classroom to succeed. Teachers need to adapt to the needs of these students and be able to understand and work with them in their own way. Students with learning disabilities can’t be treated like every other kid, they don’t learn like everyone else, they need to have their needs met and teachers treating them like everyone else could just make things even worse than they already are. Teachers should expect a lot from students with learning disabilities because we are smart! They should push kids to be the best they can be, don’t let them fail anything.

I’d like to share that living with a learning disability is very hard at times but you can’t just give up on life, you need to live up to your full potential. You need to want to help yourself before others can help you. The key to success is to want the help and then to go get the help. The people you have behind you are going to be the difference in your life, if you have really good family and friends and teachers supporting you then your success can be endless. If you really put your mind to it and try your best and you get the support and your needs are met then you can deal with your learning disability. You should never let a learning disability hold you back; you’re just as good any other person out there or even better. If you have a dream or you want to go do something, let nothing hold you back or stand in your way go do what you want to and be you. The only way to be successful is to learn from your weaknesses and work hard to improve them. You can think of your learning disability as a curse or as a blessing, it’s yours to choose what you want to do with it. God put us all on earth for a reason, he gave us everything we have and he gives the strongest of people the worst situations because he knows that they can make it through them and become better because of them.

1. When did you learn to self-advocate and what did that look like for you?

I learned to self-advocate in grade 8 with the help of Mrs. Osborne. For me it looked like me starting to ask for help with things. Whenever I needed help I’d talk to my teachers and get the extra help I needed.

2. How did learning about self-advocacy improve your experience in grade 8? Can you share an experience with us?

Learning to self-advocate improved my grade 8 experiences by getting help and having a deeper understanding of the work I was doing.   An example is for most of my science tests I was failing at first and I wouldn’t even ask what I did wrong or for help. After I started to learn to advocate for myself I’d ask where I went wrong and correct it, the teachers really went through everything slowly with me and I grew a good understanding of the material.

3. What does a safe environment mean to you? What do you need to feel safe? How did learning to self-advocate in a safe environment help with your anxiety?

A safe environment for me looks like you feel safe and no one is going to judge you for anything you do or say. If you make a mistake you won’t be penalized or made fun of for it. A safe environment for me is a place where you have support and always had people behind you to back you up when needed.

Self-advocating in a safe environment has helped me with my anxiety by making it minimal and has made me a lot less nervous to advocate for myself.

4. Can you share with us what your experience has been in high school this past year?

My experience in the past year was pretty hard and self-advocating for me has been very minimal and I haven’t done it much. The environment is just not the same and I don’t feel like I can advocate to the teachers at my school and tell them my needs.

5. How have these experiences affected your anxiety?

These experiences affected my anxiety a lot and I’ve gotten a lot more nervous in my school environment and it’s affected everything. The experience has brought my anxiety higher and made things harder for me, especially when trying to communicate.

6. What message do you have for school staff about student self-advocacy?

My message to the school staff about students self-advocating is when students actually try advocating for themselves you should really listen because you really don’t know how hard it can be for them to do that. They may think that people will view them differently and think they are asking for special treatment. They don’t want to be seen as different because they self-advocate and if they do and you help them and listen it will very much benefit them and the class.

Student Name: Matt
Relationship to the student:

My son Matthew was officially diagnosed with a learning disability in the fall of 2007 after a thorough Psychological testing process was  finally initiated and completed through the school system.  Matthew began speech therapy at 18 months of age when I noticed that he was not reaching development milestones with children of similar age.  As part of the speech therapy it was also determined that Matthew’s fine motor skills were weak.  He began therapy in a team approach with both occupational and speech therapy.  He was first seen for psychological testing at the age of 5.  It was determined at that point Matt was behind by one to two years and was placed in a small class for Senior Kindergarten to focus on language skills.  My initial thoughts at this point were finally someone else has confirmed what I have seen since 18 months.  And then the pendulum starts, the realization that Matt will have many struggles that most don’t, that we will continue to face things differently.  I then felt everything from shock, guilt, anger, confusion and a sense of grief.  I was also relieved too that the school would try to assist with accommodating Matt with his learning needs.  This has been two-fold, where the earlier years have been more kind to Matt…the latter years more cruel.  And in between we have been met with kind and encouraging teachers to teachers and therapists that will not assist if Matt is not adhering to their plan of attack.                                                 

 Matthew’s greatest strengths are he is a kind and friendly child. He has great social skills and

very polite.  He also has strong computer skills and works hard on organizing himself when prompted.  He has good verbal comprehension and fluid reasoning.  I also believe he is establishing a personal voice in his writing and is more focused on using concrete words and images to convey his attitude or feelings towards the topic.

 I believe Matt needs assistance with organizing his work. His executive functions are weak. He

has trouble with open ended questions and has a hard time with distractions.  I also believe he needs additional help with abstraction and sequencing.

 Matthew’s biggest challenge is his stutter and fluency of speech. So when he doesn’t understand a lesion in school, he needs teachers to review several times, because he won’t or can’t always ask for help or clarification of the lesson. At this time it would be better for him not to have any oral presentations or be called upon in class.

 It has impacted our family’s life tremendously.  Both my son Matt and daughter Jessica have a learning disability.  Sometimes even the most simplest of things take 3 and 4 times as long to complete.  To have family discussions is also difficult with the train of thoughts from both children going in different directions.  With Matt’s stutter it has been an emotional roller coaster.  It has taught me to have greater patience.  

Student Name:  Matthew

Your Role in the School Team: Past SERT – taught Matthew math and language in the Student Support Center for 2 years

When I first met Matt I saw a boy who was unsure of himself in this world. He had a very pronounced stutter that attributed to his lack of confidence in his abilities socially and academically. When Matt did participate in class his ideas were thought provoking and mature. Matt had the incredible ability to dissect a book and to make inferences as well as to connect to the ideas and emotions on a level that I never thought possible.  Matt was working at grade level in both math and language and was able to advocate for himself with what he needed, allowing him to experience great success. When given new concepts in math, it was important to break it down and allow Matt the opportunity to practice the new skill. Once Matt had the confidence he was then able to take this new skill and apply it when working on word problems. One of Matt’s biggest needs was and still is his anxiety around presenting in front of a group. Matt’s stutter would become more pronounced and he struggled to display his knowledge of his topic because his focus was to just get through the presentation. Matt worked very hard at this with the help of his teachers and we took steps towards presenting in front of larger audiences. Matt would present one-on-one with teachers, then in small groups of people who he felt safe with, then a bigger group until he was able to present in front of his homeroom class. Matt excelled when he was given the opportunity to experience hands-on lessons, he learns by doing and the concepts become a lot clearer for him. All of Matt’s needs when I first began teaching him have either become strengths of his or he has worked so hard that they no longer hold him back.

 Matt is an incredible human being. I have watched this shy, unsure boy try to navigate through life and then when given the confidence and a safe place where he could be free to take risks transform into the leader that we all knew was in there. Matt spoke out for others who were being bullied, taking a stand because no one did that for him. I watched Matt face his biggest fear and share his experiences with being bullied because of his stutter at the Together We are Better bullying conference. He was selected as one of 5 students in all of York Region to sit on the panel and share his story. The pride that I felt that day will never be lost. Matt has recognized that being a student with a learning disability is not his ticket to an easy life. He understands and accepts that he has to work even harder to make sure he succeeds and is given all of the opportunities that he wants in life. I have watched a student who hated all aspects of writing become an eloquent writer who now loves written expression. This is something he relies on when his stutter becomes challenging, and now sees it as one of his biggest strengths. I have watched a boy become a man right before my eyes and to continue to have a role in Matt’s journey two years later fills me with deep satisfaction. I tell him often how proud I am of him and how he will be great, whatever he may choose to do in life. I look forward to watching Matt find success and happiness in life, he certainly deserves it!

 The most important thing to know for a teacher taking on the privilege and honour of teaching students with learning disabilities is having the belief in each child that they can do it. Every student can experience success with your love and guidance and with setting the expectations high. Every child with a learning disability needs someone to believe in them and push them every day to achieve that little bit more. Eventually you will break down those walls and they too will realize just how smart they are. It is important to also teach your students how to advocate for themselves in life, to help them to find their voice and show them that what they have to say is worth listening to. Providing students with learning disabilities with this tool will allow them to continue to experience great success throughout their lives. Another important lesson that I have learned throughout my years of teaching students with learning disabilities is that every child is unique and what they may require may be different from another child. It is important to teach each child to their strengths and to help them find ways to leverage these strengths in other areas of their lives. Knowing each of our students and accepting them for who they are, while pushing them to be great is the most important job that we have as an educator.

1. What was your experience watching Matt grow up with a Learning Disability?

 My experience has been one that is much like the stages of grief and loss, much like finding out about a terminal illness or death.  I have gone through many stages including:

Denial – refusing to accept that he was different, that he wouldn’t outgrow the disability the stutter.

Anger – emotional upset at myself – if the birth had been different, the anger towards teachers today for not understanding Matt’s challenges for not investigating or listening to what will make things easier for him.

Bargaining – If I had just tried harder with him, if I hire more speech therapists, explained Matt’s challenges tried to get teachers to change marks.

Depression – the panic, the guilt the feelings of devastation and sadness at each difficult juncture. When I have tried to talk about how hard it is to see your child struggle and the pain they feel  the embarrassment to truly understand what challenges he has everyday to communicate.

Acceptance – It has made me grow and have optimism.  I have come to a place where I accept Matt’s disability and celebrate the differences and know that our journey is not a straight line but that he can and will be successful in so many ways.  I don’t compare him to other kids.  I celebrate all the wonderful things he has to offer and his accomplishments that make him the special person he is and I know that I will always be his best advocate and have a clear insight into his abilities.

2. How has Matt turned his Learning Disability into something positive?

I believe he has found that writing has now helped him express his thoughts and feelings. I think Matt has a self-awareness:  a recognition of not only his strengths but also his limitations. I think he is more proactive and will ask for help on a tough science project or assignment.  His perseverance is more noticeable even though he has setbacks.  He sets goals for himself about making life plans for the future that are realistic and concrete. I now think he has some better emotional coping strategies that he tries to utilize and realizes his stress triggers such as speaking in front of the class and knows strategies that work best to address the issues.

3. Can you share with us what your experience has been this past year with Matt being in grade 10 and how the lack of school staff support has affected Matt’s anxiety?

When Matt entered into Grade 10 in September, he came home from school the first week and seemed very quiet and distant.  I had noticed that in the weeks preceding the start of school, that Matt’s stutter had increased and he seemed more anxious.  I had asked him was there something going on, and with enough prompting he revealed that he wanted to become a mute.  That he was being teased and couldn’t communicate not only to other students, but also to teachers.  I visited the school the next day to speak with the head of the Special Education department.  He informed me that he would ask all of this semesters teachers, to allow Matt not to speak orally in class etc.    Several other times over the course of the next couple of months I repeatedly went down to the school seeking advice, asking for additional resources and asking to speak with teachers, when his mid-term marks were so low.  In the past two months it was discovered that Matt had been carrying a knife to school to make himself feel more empowered along with hopefully intimidate other kids from teasing him.  He was suspended and again a team meeting was held to discuss why the school was not assisting.  I also reached out to his previous teacher Ms. Osborne, along with a  psychologist.  I have still yet to hear back from anyone at the school about the incident or when speech therapy will take place within the school system.

4. What is your message to school staff who work with students with a Learning Disability?

That every child learns differently to some extent.  That a child with weak executive functions, need a lot of prompting, reminding and written instructions for assignments.  That a child with a stutter needs extra time for communicating along with thought processing.  That a learning disabilities doesn’t mean a child is lazy or not smart.  That they should take the Advance, Retreat, Advance approach when asking students direct questions.  Sometimes they truthfully don’t know an answer or sometimes they need more time to process the answer.  It is helpful to ask the question then retreat and then make a statement for a further attempt at a response. I also believe  teachers should learn to modify classroom lessons in ways that will benefit the range of learning styles present in any classroom. Students with disabilities are not the only students who can benefit from creative methods of instruction and assessment, and perhaps helping teachers reframe the way they approach teaching in general will result in less frustration related to having to accommodate students with disabilities.  I believe programs should be developed to create better interaction between students with disabilities and those without to develop better empathy.  Create peer tutors as a way both to assist students with disabilities academically and to promote positive interactions between students