4 Hard Questions I Asked Myself After the 2016 LDA Conference

ByAmanda Morin on Mar 10, 2016

No matter how much we think we know, there’s always something more to learn. That’s especially true when it comes to learning and thinking differences.

This truth hit me hard last week. I was at the Learning Disabilities Association of America’s annual conference. (LDA is an Understood founding partner.)

I was there to moderate a panel called Building Change: A Strong Parent Movement, hosted by Understood. But I also got to attend the rest of the conference.

My background is in education and parent advocacy. I’m also a parent of three children, two of whom have learning and thinking differences. I know a lot about this field already.

So I was surprised that the conference raised several big issues for my family. I found myself asking four hard questions about my kids’ educational experiences and how I’m handling them. I think every parent should be asking these questions.

1. Are the online tools my kids use really meeting their needs?

The conference keynote speech was What Makes Online Learning Work (or Not Work) for Students With LD? In the speech, Don Deshler, PhD, and Sean Smith, PhD, spoke about how prepackaged online learning resources don’t always meet the needs of kids with learning and thinking differences. To show this, Smith went through an example of an online video math lesson.

In the video, an instructor drew avocados to represent numbers. At the same time, he made several side remarks about why he loves avocados. That’s when Smith stopped the video. Smith noted he wasn’t thinking about math anymore, and neither would most kids with focus issues who watched the video. They’d all be thinking about guacamole.

That’s when I realized that my easily distracted child would also be drifting in another direction. And it just so happens he uses the same online math program.

2. Am I using technology to help my kids learn, or just because I can?

One of the most interesting LDA sessions involved 3D printers. This new technology can print physical objects, like balls and pyramids. It’s really a wonderful tool.

But the presenter, Lisa Wadors Verne, PhD, of Understood founding partner Benetech, reminded us that just because you can use technology doesn’t mean you always should.

Sure, when it comes to being able to explore complex ideas, like geometry and how atoms fit together, 3D printing is a great resource. But sometimes there are simpler hands-on tools, such as blocks, that can work just as well and take less time and fewer resources. Sometimes these simpler tools work better for our kids.

So before I download that next shiny app for my kids, I’m going to pause and think more about what its purpose is.

3. Am I really giving the staff at my kids’ school the benefit of the doubt?

Throughout the conference, I heard so many educators talking about how they want to work with parents. They also talked about feeling sad that parents don’t always see them as allies. They wondered about how to change that.

As a parent, I’ve had my fair share of conflicts with schools over my child’s services. But I still consider myself a collaborative advocate. The educators at the LDA conference made me realize I need to be more conscious that schools are run by real people, trying to do the best job they can for kids. We are in this together.

4. Should I be thinking differently about how to help my kids understand their strengths and weaknesses?

There are many ways to explain learning and thinking differences. In one session, Jim Forgan, PhD, discussed how to teach self-control to young kids. At one point, he read from his children’s book, Terrific Teddy. He was showing how we can communicate better with kids.

That got me thinking. It’s up to me to help my boys learn the language to use when they explain and advocate for their needs. And I need to find a way to talk about it on their level. I could be doing better on that front.

The big realization: There is always something more to learn. When it comes to the 1 in 5 kids with learning and thinking differences, we must never stop asking questions about how we can help them thrive.

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About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.