On May 15th 2017 Eaton Arrowsmith Vancouver cognitive and academic staff members came together, along with some of our alumni parents and students for our first ever round table discussion about life before, during and especially after Eaton Arrowsmith! Everything you’ve ever wanted to know and more about the transition to and from Eaton Arrowsmith, from the perspective of those who know it best – our wonderful teachers and families – can be found here!
Join us online via our YouTube channel for our first ever round table discussion with current Eaton Arrowsmith cognitive and academic teachers, EA alumni students and their parents as we discuss life before,during and especially after Eaton Arrowsmith! Everything you’ve ever wanted to know and more about the transition to and from Eaton Arrowsmith, from the perspective of those who know it best – our wonderful teachers and families! Have a question that isn’t being discussed? Feel free to write in during the conversation and we’ll do our best to answer it!
*Please note that the link to this conversation will not be available on the YouTube channel until just before the conversation starts, so do not worry if you check there earlier and it is not available. Also, should the timing of this conversation not suit you, that’s ok! We’ll be recording every last minute and will send it out to everyone in the coming weeks.
To get you all into the spirit and theme of our upcoming conversation, last week we had the pleasure of a visit from one of our very first EA students, Justine! She’s a Douglas College graduate and is working as a support worker with children with special needs. She said to us that the Arrowsmith Program’s impact on student achievement still amazes her – she couldn’t read before she came to us and now she can read a book in a day! She’s a big advocate for early intervention, so students do not have to struggle their whole lives and experience the emotional trauma and isolation that academic and social learning difficulties can cause. It was wonderful to see you again, Justine, and to witness how you have flourished – even though we feel old!!
Looking forward to ‘seeing’ you all online on Monday May 15th!
Sandra Heusel, Admissions and Marketing Director, for all of us at Eaton Arrowsmith
Have you ever wondered about some of the reasons why it is so hard for students…and grown ups…to pay attention? Thanks to our friends at VancouverMom.ca for sharing our thoughts and the experiences of our students so clearly. Have a read! http://www.vancouvermom.ca/school/paying-attention-school-difficult/
Are you a parent or student interested in learning more about professionals in the Lower Mainland who support students with learning difficulties? Or, are you a professional in the field yourself who would like to network with others and meet potential clients? Join us on March 2nd between 6:30pm and 8:00pm at Eaton Arrowsmith Vancouver/Magnussen School for this free Community Resource Fair event! Register here. Contact Sandra Heusel at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a professional interested in exhibiting at this event.
Click on the link for a video message.
All of us at Eaton Arrowsmith, Magnussen School and Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre wish you the happiest of holidays! See you in 2017!
Thank you so much to those of you who joined us this past Monday (or Tuesday in other parts of the world) either live in the audience or via our live streamed presentation. If you did you would have seen some pretty remarkable students speaking about their experiences with the Arrowsmith Program and Eaton Arrowsmith/Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre. Our school principals, Emily Lunney and Simon Hayes and founder Howard Eaton completed the presentation by sharing their knowledge of the power of brain plasticity to change lives. An update on the ongoing research taking place on the Arrowsmith Program was also discussed.
The weekend is upon us, so grab yourself some popcorn, relax, and prepare to be inspired! If, after watching, you are interested in learning more about us and our admissions process, we’re always here to help. Feel free to email us at email@example.com or call 604-264-8327 (Canadian schools/centres) or 425-861-8327 (Redmond, Washington school/center).
*Please note that due to technical difficulties at the very beginning of the presentation the first 2-3 minutes was not recorded. Additionally, due to the fact that our UBC Arrowsmith Program research is pending journal submission there is one visual that we were not able to record.
Reserve your ticket TODAY for our next amazing event!
Less than a week to go until The Future of Learning Disabilities Education: Eaton Arrowsmith’s Live Cognitive Classroom Experience will be presented by the founder of Eaton Arrowsmith, Howard Eaton, along with the principals and students at our schools. Register to save your spot today!
Howard will speak to recent research findings, as they pertain to the UBC Arrowsmith Program Brain Research Study, as well as a brand new study that has just begun on working memory and the Arrowsmith Program. Our principals and students will show you what life at Eaton Arrowsmith is all about, complete with demonstrations of our cognitive exercises and recounts on their lives before and during the program regarding noted cognitive, academic and social changes. Truly not a presentation to miss!
Live Streaming Available!
This event will be live streamed via our You Tube channel. The streaming link will be available the day of the presentation.
Please tune in on Monday November 21st at 6:30pm PST if you are local (Vancouver area) or at 9:30pm EST
For our Australia and New Zealand viewers this presentation can be viewed on:
Tuesday November 22nd at 1:30pm (Sydney and area – AEDT)
Tuesday November 22nd at 10:30am (Perth and area)
Tuesday November 22nd at 3:30pm (New Zealand)
Don’t miss out! Reserve your spot today!
Dear Eaton Arrowsmith Community,
We are excited to announce our 2017-2018 scholarships and bursaries for new and continuing students!
Bursary allocation will be based solely on financial need and amounts offered will vary according to need.
Scholarship recipients will be chosen based on a persuasive presentation by the student or parent (500 word essay or three minute multimedia presentation, as outlined in the application form). Please note that, to apply for a scholarship or bursary, a student must either be enrolled or officially offered a place at an Eaton Arrowsmith site.
In order to find more information about this opportunity, as well as application forms, please see the Scholarships and Bursaries page on our website: http://www.eatonarrowsmith.com/scholarships-bursaries/ New this year is a part time program scholarship!
Applications for scholarships and bursaries for the 2017-2018 school year are due at noon on December 5th, 2016. Recipients will be notified by December 14th. Students receiving financial aid will have until January 20, 2017, to accept their scholarship and/or bursary by confirmation of enrolment for the 2017-2018 school year.
Please note that all new students applying for bursaries and scholarships must first have been assessed for fit by our admissions team and been offered placement. For an assessment of fit, please contact us at 604-264-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your continued support of our community! Our goal is to continue to enable more students to access this life-changing program and we appreciate the donations that have allowed us to offer additional financial assistance to our students. If you have any questions, please contact me at any time.
Can you imagine growing up with a learning disability, but not knowing you have one?
Michael Harley doesn’t need to imagine the experience. He lived it for decades – suffering in silence.
“I always felt out of place and very anxious,” he said. “I had no idea what was wrong with me for the majority of my life.”
While Harley excelled in school, he struggled socially. As a child, he only had one friend. The thought of hanging out with several people at a time made him anxious. He never knew what to say or how to act.
“I couldn’t bridge the gap between talking to someone and truly connecting and developing relationships,” he said.
Harley felt confused for his entire childhood and through most of his teen years. He coped the only way he knew how: by avoiding social situations and dedicating all his time to school.
“I relied on my strengths,” Harley said. “I focused on school and got all A’s, but the social aspect of my life was entirely missing. I felt anxious and depressed.”
Clarity after Confusion
Harley didn’t find answers until his first year of university when, at the age of 19, he met with a learning specialist who told him he had a non-verbal learning disability. He describes the diagnosis as a major aha moment.
“It made complete sense and put my life in perspective,” Harley said. “Having that place as a jumping off point was the first step to addressing my learning disability and becoming the person I knew I was, but couldn’t access.”
Individuals with non-verbal learning disabilities often struggle to read social cues like body language and facial expressions and find planning and organizing difficult.
Like Harley, many people reach adulthood without knowing they have this disability.
“It’s a painful thing,” said Adriene Oelmann, director of the Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre (ECIC) in Vancouver. “When someone has this difficulty, they often don’t know they have it. They’re always walking into social situations and not understanding what’s going on around them. It makes life pretty confusing and scary to navigate.”
Oelmann believes non-verbal learning disabilities are more common than most realize. They just aren’t that understood or acknowledged.
“Many of ECIC’s students who have a non-verbal learning disability are in their early twenties. Their parents don’t understand what it is. They don’t understand what it is,” she said.
Unless someone is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger Syndrome, people tend to label individuals with this learning difficulty “awkward” or “weird”, according to Oelmann.
The Glass Ceiling
While a non-verbal learning disability doesn’t always interfere with a person’s success in elementary and high school, it becomes a bigger problem for adults when socializing extends into the work world.
For example, imagine having to do a job interview when you can’t read facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, Oelmann said.
Adults have years of being traumatized and scared. They have a history of trying with teachers, peers making fun of them, teachers thinking they’re dumb and families not understanding what’s wrong. – Adriene Oelmann
“Interviews can be terrifying for someone with a non-verbal learning disability,” she said. “There is so much information communicated through facial expression and body language.”
As a result, individuals with a non-verbal learning disability have a tendency to sell themselves short by applying for jobs they’re overqualified for. Similarly, in university, students might avoid asking professors’ questions or struggle to understand what instructors are asking of them.
“These can all be stumbling blocks,” Oelmann said. “They can close a lot of doors and prevent people from going after their dreams.”
When a non-verbal learning disability goes undiagnosed until adulthood, it can take a huge emotional toll on a person.
“Adults have years of being traumatized and scared,” Oelmann said. “They have a history of trying with teachers, peers making fun of them, teachers thinking they’re dumb and families not understanding what’s wrong.”
Harley can relate. He was 21-years-old by the time he enrolled at ECIC and had endured too many mortifying social situations, bouts of depression and anxiety to count.
But he will always remember one experience he had during his first year at Northwestern University. A group of students were hanging out in a girl’s dorm room. Harley was beginning to think he was fitting in until someone called him out for being too quiet.
“I think she said I was being really awkward or something,” he said. “It just reaffirmed all the negative beliefs that I had about myself. I was finally in this friend group and not only did I not know how to deal with a big group of people, but I could see everyone connecting and I was still on the outside.”
Harley left Northwestern twice to try to deal with his non-verbal learning disability. The first time, he attended a program for students with learning disabilities in his hometown of New York. The second time, his mom recommended ECIC.
Having tried other interventions without success, Harley decided to move to Vancouver. By this point, he could no longer separate the social and academic sides of his life and even his grades were suffering.
A Place of Refuge
Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre offers Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s Arrowsmith Program, which uses targeted cognitive exercises to strengthen weaknesses in the brain that cause learning disabilities.
ECIC doesn’t give students workarounds to cope with their challenges. Instead, the Arrowsmith Program focuses on building neural pathways and strengthening connections in the brain so that teens and adults can achieve their academic, career and social goals.
“Students with non-verbal learning disabilities work on exercises to specifically target the part of the brain that uses non-verbal and is also part of planning,” Oelmann said. “They have to figure out what is happening in different situations.”
But ECIC isn’t just about cognitive exercises. It’s also a supportive and safe community where teens and adults traumatized by past experiences can open up and feel accepted.
“They don’t feel like outsiders anymore. You start to see some really deep and awesome connections form,” Oelmann said.
Students are also encouraged to take on leadership roles by planning social activities within the community. This gives individuals with non-verbal learning disabilities the opportunity to practice socializing in a safe and supportive environment.
Reaching New Heights
Harley noticed some pretty significant changes after his first semester at ECIC. For example, when he returned from winter break, he decided to join an improv class – something he would have never done before ECIC due to his social anxiety.
“I wanted to step things up outside the program,” he said. “That’s how I found myself 3,000 miles away from home doing improv with random people of all ages and feeling more comfortable than I have ever felt in my life.”
Harley completed one year at ECIC and now studies neuroscience at Columbia University and lives with three roommates. He regularly meets new friends and feels a lot more comfortable in his own skin.
“I know my life wouldn’t be the same today without ECIC,” he said.
Oelmann has witnessed countless transformations in students with non-verbal learning disabilities over the years.
“Some students’ confidence is so heavily impacted after the program that they literally stand up taller,” she said. “They look like they’ve physically grown. They hold their heads up, pay attention and the cues they get from other people start to make sense.”
For students, it’s as if a huge weight has been lifted off their shoulders. For parents and families, it’s a relief.
“Parents realize, ‘My kid’s not going to be alone and isolated for the rest of his life,’” Oelmann said.
Alpha found out he processed information slower than other children when he was in second grade.
“He struggled with math and logical reasoning in social situations,” said his mother, Constance Wun.
In Alpha’s words, it was like information was going in one ear and out the other.
“Everything was so distracting,” he said. “I was rude and inappropriate in social situations. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know when to say it. I felt like life would always be this way.”
But unlike children diagnosed with other learning challenges, school was the least of Alpha’s concerns. He struggled in math and often had to accept results that didn’t reflect his true ability, but he excelled in other subjects. Socializing was his biggest challenge.
“As a parent, I’m not just focused on grades,” Wun said. “I want my son to be able to think through life.”
Slow processing speed need not be connected to lower intelligence. Individuals with this learning issue simply take in, interpret and respond to information at a slower rate than others in both academic and everyday social situations.
Children with slow processing speed can have a hard time following multiple instructions at once, finishing tests on time and keeping up with conversations.
“Academics weren’t that hard for me,” Alpha said. “But by grade four, I only had three true friends.”
Alpha wondered why he struggled to connect with other children.
A part-time solution to a full-time challenge
After Alpha’s diagnosis, Wun tried to help her son with behaviour intervention, applied behaviour analysis, neurotherapy, as well as speech and occupational therapy. But none of these programs seemed to make a difference in Alpha’s ability to deal with his emotions and cope in social situations.
Wun was at a loss. Her son needed a different kind of intervention, but not one that involved pulling him from school to work on his processing speed full-time.
Then, one day, through pure coincidence, Wun found Eaton Arrowsmith School (EA). She attended a seminar on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety and found out about EA’s part-time program through a representative from the school.
“I had never heard of anything like EA before,” she said. “We had tried everything else, so I believed other interventions had reached their limits in helping my son. I wanted something different, and EA’s approach made sense.”
She enrolled Alpha in the part-time program when he was nine.
Strengthening the brain after school
Eaton Arrowsmith offers a unique program that involves strengthening the brain through targeted, cognitive exercises. Unlike other interventions for individuals with learning disabilities, EA does not give students tools to cope with or work around their weaknesses.
The Arrowsmith Program, which was developed by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, is based on the principle of neuroplasticity – or the brain’s ability to re-wire and make new connections.
While some children show weaknesses in several cognitive areas, for many others – like Alpha – this is not the case.
For this reason, EA offers a part-time program for students between the ages of six and 18. Children focus on strengthening one cognitive area twice a week for two hours after school. EA also offers a part-time program for adults out of its Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centres (ECIC).
Not every child or adult diagnosed with a learning difficulty needs full-time cognitive intervention. Alpha’s story is a testament to the fact that students can strengthen their brains on a part-time basis.
An emotional transformation
Alpha is now 13 and started grade eight in September. He completed four years in EA’s part-time program and describes the changes he’s experienced as “exponential”.
“I took what I learned emotionally and I’m happy to report that my friend group has grown. I have even helped other friends with social situations, just like my three friends helped me several years ago,” Alpha said. “It’s not been easy. There are still things that happen, but what I learned at Eaton Arrowsmith has really helped me.”
Alpha’s mom said he is now doing better in math. But more importantly, she’s noticed fewer outbursts since he finished his program at EA.
“Emotions are a big factor in Alpha’s ability to deal with school and life,” Wun said. “I appreciate the teachers at EA very much. They helped my son break down the problems in his social life and deal with them effectively.”
Before EA, Alpha would simply feel stuck in social situations.
“I owe the school a huge debt that words cannot express,” Alpha said. “The teachers and the program helped me become confident and live up to my potential. EA was challenging, but I have reaped brilliant results from it.”
About the programs
The part-time programs at Eaton Arrowsmith School and Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre are designed to help students that fit the same learning profile as the full-time program.
These children and adults have learning difficulties that cause them to struggle in school and life, but they do not have severe emotional, behavioural or intellectual disorders.
Students’ programs are designed specifically for their learning needs and are based on the cognitive areas they need to strengthen.
Both schools recognize that children and adults have many commitments, including extracurricular activities, homework, jobs, and much more. While EA or ECIC’s part-time program is another commitment, it can strengthen cognitive capacities and contribute to a student’s ability to manage and enjoy other activities and programs.
If you are interested in EA or ECIC’s part-time programs, please email us at email@example.com or call us at 604-264-8327 (for Canadian admissions) or 425-861-8327 (for US admissions).
Join us for an educational evening with the founder of the Arrowsmith Program.
Everyone remembers what it’s like to go back to school after a carefree summer holiday. You worry about what your teacher will be like, who will be in your class, and the homework and assignments that lie ahead. It’s a stressful time of year because there are so many “unknowns”.
Most children experience some degree of nervousness before returning to class, but others feel a debilitating fear that impacts everything from sleep to behaviour and personality.
“Back to school anxiety ranges from normal nerves to full-on terror,” said Rebecca Mitchell, a Registered Clinical Counsellor with The Wishing Star Lapointe Developmental Clinic in Surrey.
For children with learning difficulties, just the idea of school can induce extreme fear – mostly because they’ve struggled to excel in past grades. According to Mitchell, anxiety in children with learning disabilities is also often connected to the way they learn.
“We all have different styles of taking in and processing information,” she said. “It can be challenging to adapt to one learning style. The majority of our classrooms are auditory-based, so a child who doesn’t process verbal well, will feel overwhelmed.”
But how can parents distinguish between normal back to school jitters and serious anxiety issues?
Spotting the Signs
If your children start telling you they don’t want to go back to school or don’t want summer to end, but aren’t having trouble sleeping and are still engaging in activities, chances are they’re just struggling with the return to routine. Think of it as mourning the loss of freedom that comes with summer. We’ve all been there.
Serious anxiety, however, often shows up in the form of significant sleep issues, withdrawal from activities, a dysregulation of behaviour, and a lot more acting out.
“If kids have tantrums several times a day, get to school and experience complete meltdowns, or run away from school, this is beyond nerves,” said Mitchell.
She also cautioned parents against mistaking anxiety for misbehaviour, adding that anxiety occurs because the brain perceives a harmful event or threat that triggers the fight-or-flight response. It’s a psychological reaction.
Parents can help ease their child’s anxiety by building connections, predictability and resilience into their daily lives, according to Mitchell.
“Humans are wired for CONNECTION. If children don’t feel connected to their teachers, it can be very unsettling to be at school every day,” she said.
Parents can engage in conversations with their child’s teacher and share aspects of the conversation with their child in order to build connections.
For some kids, however, being separated from a parent is the biggest cause of stress. To ease separation, Mitchell tells parents to give their kids a way to hold on to them when they’re at school – from goodbye rituals to symbols, or notes.
“We had a parent one time who had a grade 10 student with significant anxiety and the mother would take a little bite out of his sandwich every day,” Mitchell said.
She did this so that her son would remember that she was thinking of him throughout the day.
In terms of PREDICTABILITY, establishing a routine is key to combatting back to school anxiety. Ensure your child gets enough sleep, eats healthy, exercises, and minimizes their screen time. Covering these basic needs gives children the foundation to cope with the challenges they face in school.
RESILIENCE plays a role in helping anxious kids too. Don’t just reassure your child that everything will be fine and tell him or her not to worry. Have you ever had a problem and a friend gave you similar advice? It often does little to make you feel better.
“Normalize worries and fears,” Mitchell said. “Encourage children to feel their sadness, so they don’t just stuff it down.”
Failure is Part of Learning at Eaton Arrowsmith
At Eaton Arrowsmith (EA), anxiety is most common in first year students because they are starting at a new school with new peers, new teachers and a different style of learning.
“Fear of failure creates a great deal of anxiety,” said Natalie Poirier, EA’s head academic teacher and math specialist. “Students come to us from various backgrounds and bring a lot of anxiety from past school experiences with them.”
Many children have been told that their learning disabilities will be with them for life – that if they can’t do something today, they won’t be able to do it tomorrow. EA does not subscribe to this way of thinking. It only increases students’ anxiety and prevents them from learning.
“We believe failure, or making mistakes, is part of learning and it’s actually how our brains grow,” Poirier said.
This philosophy is called the growth mindset and it’s at the core of everything EA does. According to Poirier, if you follow the growth mindset, you believe intelligence is malleable and that students can work on their learning disabilities. A fixed mindset is the opposite of the growth mindset. People who think the mind is fixed believe that if something is challenging, it will always be challenging.
“We explain the growth mindset to our students because, if children are afraid of failure, it impacts how they’re willing to engage in difficult tasks,” Poirier said.
Taking Comfort in the Familiar
At the beginning of every school year, EA teachers also establish a classroom culture. They outline expected behaviour, develop routines and make the unfamiliar familiar because new places, situations, and patterns often spark milder forms of anxiety.
“It’s normal to feel anxious when our brains are learning something new,” Poirier said.
To combat anxiety, EA teachers also use mindfulness, which involves having a student take time out from what they’re working on to sit quietly and calmly.
“Engaging in mindful activity helps the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that tells the amygdala that a situation isn’t scary and we can still be at rest,” Poirier said. “This activity helps students with anxiety return to class in a happy and relaxed state.”
Continuous stress can do a lot of harm to a student’s confidence, ability to focus and progress.
“We learn best when we’re happy. When we experience anxiety, our brains aren’t as open to learning and forming new pathways,” Poirier said.
Grace Wyatt remembers Grade 10 as one of the darkest times in her son’s life.
Josh, then 16, had studied really hard for a particular test. But hours of work didn’t help and he still failed.
High school students skip class, don’t study and flunk exams all the time, but Josh wasn’t a slacker. He had the study habits of an “A” student and the grades of an “F” student.
And the test was simply the breaking point.
“I came home that day and told my mom I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt as if I was living in a fog,” Josh says.
Like many students with learning difficulties, he needed a radical intervention.
“There’s no point in trying to pour ‘learning’ into a child if it’s running out through the holes,” says Grace. “You have to plug the holes first and then the information will stick.”
With that philosophy, Grace pulled Josh out of school in Australia and enrolled him in Eaton Arrowsmith in Vancouver – a school with a unique approach to teaching students with learning difficulties. Grace knew it was worth the risk.
The road to recovering Josh
Unlike other alternative schools for children with learning difficulties, Eaton Arrowsmith isn’t giving students tools to cope or work around their weaknesses; it is changing their brains to make learning easier.
Experts used to believe the human brain was fixed – that people couldn’t alter the brains they were born with. Modern research has since proven this to be false. The brain can create new neural pathways and alter existing ones.
Howard Eaton, founder and director of Eaton Arrowsmith and author of Brain School says: “It’s stunning to see a program alter neurological functioning in children with learning difficulties.”
The Eaton Arrowsmith method, developed by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, involves rigorous programs of cognitive exercises based on each student’s individual needs and learning difficulties. Children take two traditional subjects: math and English. But the rest of their days are spent strengthening weak connections in their brains so they can eventually return to mainstream schools with a better ability to learn.
Eaton Arrowsmith in action
Josh had many learning challenges before EA. Cognitive thought, comprehension, memory and reasoning were all difficult for him. While he loved reading, he never understood what he was reading. His mom remembers her son devouring book after book – loving the process, but never being able to discuss characters or even plot.
Josh couldn’t hold commands in his head, so if a teacher asked him to read a sentence out loud from a book, he couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to read. He also had trouble understanding patterns, which made math seem like a foreign language. Josh struggled to remember facts, too. Grace recalls her son making flash cards for history tests and watching him walk around the house trying to memorize what was written on them – often with minimal success.
“I’ve always had a great work ethic, but it was soul-destroying to put in the effort and not see results,” Josh says.
Josh always knew he wasn’t like other kids. Mostly, he saw how he struggled in school and his friends didn’t.
But at Eaton Arrowsmith his differences no longer mattered.
Josh likens his early days at Eaton Arrowsmith to running a marathon. He says the work took concentration and persistence, and then he had his first breakthrough.
“I remember coming out to the car and telling my mom ‘I’m not dumb after all.’ I realized I could learn,” he says.
After days of struggling with one exercise, Josh not only mastered it, he understood the next level too!
After the Fog
Eaton Arrowsmith showed Josh that his learning difficulties don’t determine his goals; he does.
“Don’t accept the verdict,” Josh says to parents of children struggling in school. “There is a solution and there is light at the end of the tunnel. For me it was EA.”
After two years of Arrowsmith exercises, Josh returned to Australia where he achieved A-level grades. He then attended film school and landed a job at one of the top production companies in North America.
“I am so grateful I had the courage to take Josh to EA – to step out of a ‘regular’ learning environment so he could become the incredible man he is today,” Grace says.
EA taught Josh how to learn and, more importantly, restored his confidence.
“My family tells me they don’t recognize the boy who went to EA,” Josh says. “Given where I am today, I know this school changed my life.”
Kids across the country will head back to school in just over a month. For some parents, it’s the best time of year, but for others it brings on feelings of dread and anxiety about what lies ahead.
Parents who have children with learning difficulties, in particular, are often plagued by questions about what is and isn’t right for their kids.
Will my child be able to cope? Will this year be different? How will he or she manage the heavier homework load? Will my child get further behind? How will his or her confidence be impacted?
But the big question weighing on many parents’ minds is, “Should I take my child out of public school and search for other options?”
An aha moment
According to one Eaton Arrowsmith parent, the education system just isn’t designed for kids with learning difficulties – or those who don’t read and write at certain ages.
“I strongly believe that you pay now or you pay later with children who have learning challenges,” said Helen Young. “The problem with school is that it accelerates, so if you don’t know what’s going on in grade five, you definitely won’t be able to keep up in grade six.”
Young’s daughter, Sofia, struggled at several schools before she found Eaton Arrowsmith.
“We didn’t notice a lot of things when Sofia was younger. When you have a child with learning challenges, you’re with them all the time and you just adjust,” she said.
For her, a major eye-opening moment happened when Sofia was in grade two.
“The teacher said she wasn’t really understanding instructions in either French or English. We were shocked,” Young said. “ We didn’t realize we had been simplifying things in conversation with her.”
Spotting the signs
The mainstream education system works for children who learn “normally”. However, it can sometimes take more out of kids with learning difficulties than it puts in. So recognizing signs that a school can’t do anything more for a child is important.
Young said, looking back, Sofia experienced the following challenges:
- spoke later than other kids,
- struggled to learn how to read regardless of the amount of time spent practicing,
- withdrew in group social situations,
- couldn’t complete class exercises in subjects like math – even with extra help,
- often appeared disengaged and lost,
- lacked confidence, was unhappy and sometimes acted out in class, and
- exhausted all resources available through the school system.
These signs might not be the same for every child, but Young said a dive in confidence should be a major red flag for parents.
“At the end of the day, once kids finish high school, no one cares if they know how to do algebra or have memorized historical facts,” she said. “But if your child has a learning disability, he or she could spend more than a decade losing confidence in themselves because they can’t keep up with their peers.”
Young never wants Sofia to be in a situation where she feels like the dumbest person in the room.
“The reality is that Sofia is really smart, she just learns differently,” she said.
At the same time, Young wanted her daughter to discover what she could do on her own – without additional help that is offered to children through special education programs. So she started to look for alternatives and discovered Eaton Arrowsmith.
Making a change
During a tour of EA, Young remembers another couple expressing concern that their child wouldn’t be taking all the academic subjects offered in mainstream classrooms. The person giving the tour responded with, “Is your child getting anything out of academics?”
A light suddenly clicked on. Young knew Sofia wasn’t learning much at her current school and that she didn’t have anything to lose at age 11 by not taking a full academic course load.
“I thought, we’ve exhausted special education programs. She can’t go back into the public school system. She’s young enough. What’s the worst that can happen, she loses a year?”
Young was away for work during Sofia’s first three weeks at Eaton Arrowsmith, but when she returned she noticed a huge difference in her daughter.
“The first day I picked her up, she started telling me about her day! She had never talked about her day before. I was so startled I had to pull over,” she said.
Sofia has now completed her first year at Eaton Arrowsmith and Young has noticed even more changes in her daughter. She’s less anxious, she tries new things, she’s more engaged in the world and she feels more confident talking to people she doesn’t know.
“EA is keeping my daughter’s brain engaged all day long and teaching her valuable skills,” Young said. “Sofia has learned that she can achieve her goals if she’s organized and works hard every day and that’s a huge step forward for this little girl.”
* The names in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of the student and parents.
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