I’ve spent my entire life dealing with my learning and thinking differences. They include and problems with reading, spelling and short-term memory. That’s why I can identify with students and youth who have learning and thinking differences. Perhaps more importantly, they can identify with me.
When I was in high school, my mother was called into the school guidance counselor’s office. There, she was told that she needed to understand that I would never go to college. The best career I could hope for, she was told, was to be a cab driver.
My mom never accepted this verdict about me. After all, my father, who passed away when I was in seventh grade, had been a well-known doctor. My brother, who was a year ahead of me in school, was an A student who went on to Harvard and Harvard Medical School.
Fortunately, I was very good at kicking a soccer ball, and was recruited by colleges—more for my right foot than for my left or right brain. I went on to graduate from both college and graduate school. Then I became a college dean.
Sometime later, I had the chance to speak to a staff member who knew me when I was in high school. As the conversation started, I couldn’t resist saying, “This is Dean Rein calling.”
There was a long pause. I assumed it was because she was surprised and impressed that someone who was in remedial classes had come so far. Finally, she asked me why I changed my name from “Jim” to “Dean.” I then realized that perceptions are very, very hard to change.
I was very fortunate to be a good athlete. Not only was it a factor in getting into college, but it meant if I could get through the humiliation of the classroom on a daily basis and get to soccer, basketball or track practice, I could have some success at school.
The good news is that I’ve never worked with a young person who didn’t have an area of real talent or strength. Sadly, these skills were often not recognized.
When I started working in the field of learning and thinking differences, I was relieved to learn that my issues were not my fault. The labels I grew up with—like “lazy,” “stupid” and even “retarded”—didn’t apply to me.
Perhaps the most painful part was people telling me I could do it if I tried, and my telling them I was trying.
But much of that is behind me now. My school grades didn’t predict the full story. Even though I got C’s and D’s in English class, I’ve gone on to write popular songs (“Walk Tall” was my best seller) and a feature film (Dynamite Brothers). I’ve even written a few articles for Understood.org.
My biggest hope for you is that your kids will also one day look back like I can, having experienced success. Here are a few of my thoughts for how you can get there:
- Find your child’s strengths; put him in activities and settings that recognize and develop those strengths.
- Advocate for the right academic environment for your child; seek out effective instruction and whole child education.
- Tell your child that grades are important and you expect good effort, but that grades aren’t everything.
- Expose your child to successful role models who face the same challenges he does.
- Help your child take pride in his accomplishments.
- Remember that, for all kids, it’s great to feel special, but not so great to feel different.
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About the author
About the author
Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.