From news stories to op-eds, from lengthy resources to Twitter threads, these are our top picks for 2019. Some call for system-wide reform. Others are changing mindsets person by person. All are pushing for a world where everyone can thrive.
1. What Different-Looking People Would Like You to Know Before You Stare
Gail Belsky, Executive Editor: This crowdsourced article in the New York Times invited people who describe themselves as “looking different” to weigh in on how strangers should react. Look away? Ask questions? Try to help? The responses are insightful and empowering for anyone who has differences or knows someone who does.
Overall, the article reinforces why we as a society need to learn to put people first, not their differences. As one respondent put it: “Your brain is wired to notice differences right away, and it’s very good at its job. I get it. But where you take it after that split second is entirely on you.”
2. How to Help Students With Learning Disabilities Focus on Their Strengths
Vanessa Bertone, Community Manager: Each year millions of kids qualify for special services in school. This Greater Good article shares tips for teachers and families on how to reduce the negative effects that can come along with these labels.
A school psychologist wrote the tips. They’re designed to help kids develop resilience and a growth mindset. One key point: “Language is powerful. Even a subtle shift in language can influence how students see themselves and how stigmatized they feel.”
3. Kodi Lee’s Golden Buzzer-Winning Performance
Tara Drinks, Associate Editor: America’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell said he’ll remember the performance for the rest of his life. Fellow judge Gabrielle Union was so moved she used her only Golden Buzzer, ensuring the contestant would advance to the next round.
Kodi Lee is blind and has autism and an amazing voice. I cry every time I watch this performance. It’s all the sweeter knowing he went on to win the show’s 14th season.
4. The MindShift Guide to Understanding Dyslexia
Kim Greene, Managing Editor of Understood for Educators: This comprehensive guide has something for everyone—including families, teachers, and anyone of any age who has dyslexia.
This free resource from KQED is 41 pages long. But don’t be intimidated by the length. There’s a handy table of contents that can help you skip to the section that most benefits you. And of course I’m glad the guide highlights Understood as an expert resource for educators.
5. What Parents of Dyslexic Children Are Teaching Schools About Literacy
Trynia Kaufman, Expert and Senior Manager, Editorial Research: This story by PBS NewsHour and Education Week looks at phonics instruction. Research shows this is an essential part of teaching reading in a systematic way. And it helps all kids, not just those who are struggling with reading. That’s why phonics should be explicitly taught in general education classrooms. But most teachers haven’t received phonics training.
It’s important for families to ask questions about reading instruction. How is reading being taught at their child’s school? What training have the teachers received? As shown in this news story about statewide changes in Arkansas, families can work with schools to advocate for teachers to receive the training they need to teach kids to read.
6. Let’s Hear It for the Average Child
Laura Kusnyer, Executive Director of Editorial Content: Don’t be fooled by the title. This New York Times op-ed celebrates kids who are anything but “average.” In example after example, it shows the often-overlooked strengths of kids who might not get straight A’s, but who bring something else to the table. Here’s one of my favorite shout-outs:
To the student who bombed the history final because you stayed up all night talking to a friend whose heart is breaking: There is honor in your choice. You can make up the history lessons, but compassion is not a subject we offer in summer school. Today we rejoice for the A you’ve earned in Empathy, the blue ribbon you’ve won in Love.
7. Abuse of “Extended Time” on SAT and ACT Outrages Learning Disability Community
Andrew Lee, Associate Director of Editorial Content: One of the biggest stories of the year, the college admissions scandal spanned several huge trends—parenting insecurities, the college rat race, elite corruption. Wealthy families were cheating and bribing their way into top-tier schools. But that wasn’t the worst part.
We learned from Operation Varsity Blues that rich kids were faking disabilities. Why? So they could get extended time on tests. This Washington Post story looks at concerns the scandal might make it harder for students who truly need testing accommodations to get them.
8. Living With ADHD
Amanda Morin, Senior Writer and Expert: This Twitter thread shows the power of using social media for social good. Journalist Yashar Ali has more than 485,000 followers on Twitter. He used the platform to bravely describe his challenges with ADHD. In doing so, he took a step toward breaking down stigma. He also helped thousands of people share their own struggles and find a community of support.
9. ADHD Explained Using Comics
Julie Rawe, Special Projects Editor: With bright colors and very few words, Dani Donovan beautifully explains her experience living with ADHD. As an artist she brings clarity to aspects of ADHD that are often misunderstood. And her voice is being heard. So far the comics in this Twitter thread have been retweeted more than 30,000 times.
Comics and graphic novels can be so powerful. This year Understood published a two-page comic about growing up with dyslexia. It’s exciting to see personal stories being told in such different ways.
10. Why People Hide Their Disabilities at Work
Audra Zuckerman, Director of Training Content, Workplace Initiative: This Harvard Business Review article looks at why some people don’t tell their employer they have a disability. It also looks at the toll this can take on employees. A survey found those who don’t disclose are more likely to feel anxious or isolated at work than those who do disclose.
The article also has tips to help people feel more comfortable disclosing at work. Employers can help build this support. That’s where Understood’s Workplace Initiative comes in. Employers can do a lot to create a culture of inclusion so everyone can bring their most productive and authentic self to work.
Any opinions, views, information, and other content contained in blogs on Understood.org are the sole responsibility of the writer of the blog, and do not necessarily reflect the views, values, opinions, or beliefs of, and are not endorsed by, Understood.
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The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.