Students Who Learn Differently Home    Students Who Learn Differently Overseas








Some first steps:


1.     Read up on the problem. Inform yourself. The bibliography and resource list at the end of this study can be a starting place.


2.     Don't be put off with the often well-meant assurances that while your child might be a bit behind now, he will soon catch up. You know your child best. One FAWCO mother writes, "If you suspect your child has SLD (specific learning difficulties), be persistent in getting the assessment. Don't be fobbed off with 'It's developmental, be patient.' It's crucial to identify and get recognition early on before the child's confidence is affected."


3.     If you think that extra help might be needed, get an assessment or testing done right away. Demand it if you must. You have to become an advocate for your child. The following excerpt from a book written by a 12 year old dyslexic boy, Alexander Faludy, and his mother, Tanya Faludy, describes their relief once they had received the results of the assessment:


The journey home was in marked contrast to the one there. Our son with the illegible writing and bizarre spelling was both dyslexic and one of the cleverest people in the country. Alexander was buoyant as he chatted about his interesting conversation with Mr. Freland. He was liberated from the labels of slow, backward, stupid, and the basis of a new aspect of his character was formed: an independence from relying on the conventional judgments of others and an awareness that his individuality had a unique quality which was outside standard measurements. That morning he ceased to mind being different and gained a new strength in the belief of his personal worth. [1]


Alexander was very fortunate. Both his parents were college lecturers, and both realized when Alexander was quite young that they were raising an exceptionally gifted child. So when his school performance did not match the intelligence they knew he possessed, they were knowledgeable enough to have him tested at the earliest possible age.


For Ennis Cosby, the son of the famous TV dad, Bill Cosby, the correct assessment didn't come so easily. Time gives the following account:


His father remembers watching in frustration as his son studied and studied but got nowhere with his grades. Ennis managed to enter Morehouse College in Atlanta, but he continued to struggle with his schoolwork. His mother, Camille, told Jet magazine in 1992, "We didn't know that Ennis was dyslexic until he went to college."


"He never used it as an excuse," say his friend and schoolmate, Clarence Anthony Jasper II. Though midway through college before the learning disability was discovered, Ennis enrolled in a short program that quickly prepared him to deal with his dyslexia and to fully master reading. . . In a paper he wrote, Ennis said, "The happiest day of my life occurred when I found out I was dyslexic. I believe that life is finding solutions, and the worst feeling to me is confusion.” [2]


Ennis was planning on attending graduate school in order to become a teacher for students who learn differently when his life was so tragically cut short. A website for learning-differently students has been set up in his honor (





Symptoms for dyslexia and ADD/HD are being listed together here because it happens that some students can experience both to a greater or lesser extent.  They can also show signs of additional learning differences.  Indeed, many people group these phenomena together under the heading of specific learning difficulties. Although the behaviors and types of treatment might be different, very often recommended mainstream teaching methods and parental support are quite similar for both.





It is important to be aware of these signs because early recognition can lead to effective remedial treatment even before the student starts to read.  The prevention of the damage to students’ self-esteem that occurs when they begin to lag behind their classmates can thus be lessened or even eliminated. The following indicators are taken from a pamphlet entitled, Dyslexia Your First Questions Answered, prepared by Anna McNair Scott for the British Dyslexia Association:



In answer to the question, "Can anything be done before school age?", Ms. Scott recommends finding detailed suggestions by reading "Early Help, Better Future," by Jean Augur which is available from the British Dyslexia Association (see Useful Addresses).






This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possible manifestations of dyslexia and/or ADD/HD, but it should give some idea of what you might expect.





The earlier remedial help is given the better.  In some parts of the world, this might be offered free of charge, but waiting lists can be long. It might be better to have it done privately, even if you have to pay.  In some cases it appears that the authorities are reluctant to assess children because of the financial burden that will be placed upon them if the child is found to require special help.


It is beyond the scope of this study to examine the many assessment possibilities. Some are done in the school.  Others involve a visit to a specialist.  Some take much longer than others.  Some tests measure intelligence, some measure performance, and others measure physical perception.  Work is ongoing in the development of new testing procedures and in the refinement of existing ones. Currently work is being done on the development of an international test for dyslexia.  If you are an educational professional interested in this project, see Ian Smyth at .


In some countries, proper testing might not be available. Therefore, you might consider having it done when you are on home leave.




If you don't agree with the assessment, consider getting another one done somewhere else. Recently there was a case in Antwerp in the Flemish school system where the mother was pretty sure that her daughter had a problem. Over a period of 5 years, she requested four different assessments.  Only the last one finally confirmed that the child was dyslexic.


In another instance, a FAWCO mother did not agree with the assessment of her child that a new school insisted on doing. She suggests that, when you know beforehand that you child has a problem, come to the new school with a brand new, up-to-date evaluation from your home country that you feel does correctly reflect the situation. Then based on this, and in order to prevent any future misunderstanding, request the new school to give assurances in writing that the suggested remedial treatment will be followed.


The assessment is very important. Only then can you proceed with obtaining the correct help for your student.  It is also of great importance in some countries, because only then can you get financial compensation for any special help that might be needed. But be warned that very often when you move, even between towns, the new school system will require that a new assessment be done.



                             IF YOU OR YOUR STUDENT DOES LEARN DIFFERENTLY                            


If it is determined that you or your student does learn differently:


  1. Empower yourself and your student. As soon as you think the student is old enough, involve him, help him to take active part in any decisions that are made regarding his education. For example, discuss enrolling him as soon as is practical in a typing course so he can take full advantage of computer technology.
  2. Find out everything you can. Join a support group, and if there isn't one in your area, create one. Suggestions are given in the section Support Groups, Activities,and Awards.
  3. Be prepared for trial and error. Just as dyslexia has no one, or simple definition, there is no one remedy that will solve all the problems.  But if you and your child know this up front, disappointments may be minimized or even avoided.
  4. Because of your interest, you will often be on the cutting edge of the newest ideas and the latest methods. Ask friends to send you articles and let you know about programs they have seen that relate to your topic.





Whom should you tell about your own or your child's disability?  First, before you can tell anyone about a disability, you must first recognize that one exists and then be willing to act on that knowledge. A poll commissioned by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation found that many parents are aware of their child's learning disability but are afraid to act:


Nearly half of parents (48 percent) feel that having their child labeled as "learning disabled" is more harmful than struggling privately with an undiagnosed learning disability . . .

After reviewing the poll findings, Dr. Robert Brooks, a noted Harvard Medical School clinical psychologist who has worked with special needs children for more than 25 years said, "What we've learned is that if we really want to help a child with a learning disability, we are going to first have to help the parents overcome fears about their child receiving that label. Parents must come to understand that they are not the cause of the learning difference and that their child's learning problems can be addressed with early intervention and professional help."

"It's clear from the poll that parents do not understand the importance of early intervention. With the right kind of help, children with learning disabilities can go on to be successful in their school careers," said Dr. Reid Lyon, Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. "But right now about 35 percent of children with learning disabilities drop out of high school. This is twice the rate of students without learning disabilities. Of those who graduate, less than two percent attend a four-year college, despite the fact that many are above average in intelligence." [4]


When considering whom to tell once a learning disability has been recognized, Dr. Edward Hallowell, editor-in-chief of the newsletter Mind Matters suggests the following:


In telling other people about your disability, one should anticipate . . . misunderstandings and not be thrown off by them. Have information ready with which to correct misconceptions. Try not to get defensive, but rather be sympathetic with the other person's point of view. They may never have heard of your condition and at first it sounds pretty fishy. "You mean there's a neurological condition to explain why you're late, forgetful, irritable, impulsive, and disorganized? Give me a break," they may say. Be patient. Over time you will be able to explain it to them, and you may find they start thinking of other people who have similar conditions, maybe even themselves.

Bringing it up in the workplace can be particularly tricky. There is a law now to protect against discrimination on the basis of disabilities and this includes brain-based disabilities like ADD, Dyslexia, and Depression. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability. For further information about this very significant law, write to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1801 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20507, or telephone 202-663-4900. [5]


Special education expert Richard Lavoie offers the following advice:


Disclose only what is necessary . . . and only to those who need to hear it! Don't complain or whine about your disability. Explain your needs in an assertive and positive way. When someone helps you, don't APOLOGIZE . . . THANK! Instead of saying: "I'm sorry that you had to come to my machine to unjam it this morning." Say: "Thanks a lot for helping me out this morning. I really appreciate it."


Provide your supervisor with information on Learning Disabilities. LD OnLine has several solid, basic articles on Learning Disabilities. Download some and give them to your employer. It is your responsibility to educate him.


Understand your rights. Many advocates and legislators have worked very hard over the years to design and implement laws that protect your rights. Your employer is legally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to assist you in doing your job. You should be aware of these. You are not being a "wimp" by asking that your rights be respected.


Work hard at becoming a valued and valuable employee! Bosses and co-workers are far more likely to willingly assist you with accommodations if you are perceived as a high performer and an essential employee! Be punctual ... don't whine ... be clean ...take initiative ... ask advice ... thank people who help you ... be friendly ... be helpful. Dale Brown, a longtime advocate, refers to this as "self-marketing".


Emphasize "productivity and quality" when asking for accommodations. Instead of . . . "My spelling is lousy. Sally needs to proofread all of my stuff before we send it to the customer." Say this: "I know that you want all customer correspondence to be top quality. To make sure that my letters are satisfactory, I think it would be a good idea to have Sally take a look at them before we mail them. OK?"


First, disclose your disability and request for accommodation verbally. Then follow up in writing. Have a conversation with your supervisor about your need for accommodation. Then send him a brief note or memo outlining your discussion.


More questions: Try ADA Hotline at 800 949 4232 or Job Accommodation Network, West Virginia University (phone: 800 526 7234) [6]





It's more than time for learning-differently students to come out of the closet. Speaking of dyslexia and ADD/HD in hushed tones or behind closed doors only adds to the sense that these conditions are so terrible that they shouldn't be spoken of out loud or in public.


What do Albert Einstein, Cher, and Walt Disney have in common? They are all learning-differently students who happened to become famous people. A whole list of them can be found on the websites of ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education and One A. D. D. ( One of the first things we need to do to help our learning-differently students successfully negotiate the mainstream is to raise their level of self-esteem. Let them know that not only are they not alone, but also that they are among some pretty good company too.









Students Who Learn Differently Overseas


by Susan van Alsenoy, AWC Antwerp




Page created 10/29/99 EvE. Last updated 03/01/11 SvA.




Copyright ©  All rights reserved.



[1] Faludy & Faludy, p. 39

[2] Chua-Eoan, Howard, et al. "He was My Hero." Time. January 27, 1997. p. 25.  


[3] Rogers, Laura. "Poll Shows More Parents Aware of Learning Disabilities But Many Afraid to Act."  Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities. May 2000.



[5] Hallowell, M.D., Edward M. "Who Do You Tell About Your Disability?" Mind Matters. April 2000.


[6] Lavoie, Richard. "Ask Rick." March 2001.