by Heather Tracy
I remember John* - sweet and slow. He was a senior in high school but had never actually done much work. I'm not even sure how he made it that far. His processing speed was the lowest I'd seen, and yet he was a bright young man, frozen in anxiety. Schoolwork - after years of struggle - froze him.
We sat down to work on a history assignment - just a few questions to answer on a reading they had done. He couldn't write a word. So I asked him to just tell me his answers and I wrote them for him. We did that for about 2 weeks.
John had had a list of accommodations for his learning disability - scribes, dictation devices, extended time, etc., and yet we knew there was more to it than LD. His social and emotional fears and anxiety were creating blockages in his cognitive functioning. With our supportive immersion program and nurturing, empowering milieu, he began to feel safe. He began to feel appreciated. He gained confidence with our gentle validation and patience as well as the other enrichment activities he began to enjoy as he saw his own confidence grow and capabilities expand. He felt no pressure to be anyone other than who he was, and his anxiety began to lift. The wheels began to turn.
So then I asked him to write his own answers, but just 3 words for each answer. Then it became a sentence. Then three sentences. Before too long, he was writing his own essay (well, let's say paragraph) answers to complicated history questions.
This is not to say that John didn't need academic accommodations or support. He did. But he was not limited to his learning disability. He was more than that, and once he began to realize and feel that, he began to thrive academically. Did he go to college? No. He has since gone on to less-scaffolded supportive immersion programs and environments. He has explored internships and experiential learning to find out what motivates him and allows him to contribute to society productively. He is functioning and finding a vocation that feeds his social and emotional needs while also allowing him to succeed to independence and productivity.
*Name was changed to protect privacy.