Family Friendly Tech and Advocacy: Tech Psychologist's Guide by Dr. Jeanne Beckman

Family Friendly Tech and Advocacy: Tech Psychologist's Guide   by Dr. Jeanne Beckman
Finally, a book to help families find the right technology to accommodate reading disorders (dyslexia) and other disabilties! ISBN 978-1-60264-089-4

How to purchase my book

To purchase through Virtual Bookworm (my publisher) you can click Virtual Bookworm Publisher: Tech Psychologist's Guide or
Amazon no longer allows Illinois professionals to get credit for referrals to Amazon due to a sales tax dispute. I will be referring to Powell's in the near future.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Is discouragement inherited?

The other day, I heard a father of a college freshman with significant learning disabilities speak about how his son needed to "try harder," "get more organized," "pay attention," "buckle down," and perhaps be allowed to fail. He also said that maybe University X is not the right school for his son. The implication is that this student is not trying hard enough, is perhaps partying too hard, and just being a typical adolescent who is abusing his new-found freedoms. Is there truth to what he says?

Whenever I hear these kinds of comments about students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders, I try to see whether these comments would fit if a different disability were substituted. So...if you had a student who was blind, would you say he or she needed to "try harder" to read regular text in books? If you had a student in a wheelchair, would you say he or she needed to "try harder" to go up a flight of stairs? No, you wouldn't. You would provide appropriate accommodations, such as Braille texts or an elevator to get to another floor. So why is it so different for those with learning disabilities? And why would a father be parroting the very phrases that the child was subjected to in grade school and high school?

The answer to the first question, I have come to believe, is three-fold. First, it is difficult to "see" a learning disability or attention deficit disorder because it is internal, it is due to the manner in which the different parts of the brain communicate. It is obvious if a person is blind that he or she cannot use traditional text, yet there have been those who have discriminated against those with vision impairments. There have also been cases where those in wheelchairs have been forced to literally drag themselves up stairs in order to reach a government court or other public place. Secondly, there is variability in performance among those with learning disabilities, even within an individual. This variability can depend on the specific demands of the particular task, the competing demands on the person at the time, fatigue, and other factors. Thirdly, while most public officials and school administrators have learned that it is not politically correct to demean those who are blind or have other visible disabilities, it still seems that there are many who believe it is acceptable to demean those with learning and attention disabilities. We know from research that overt, or even subtle biases about an individual or group of students will diminish their performance to match those low expectations.

So, why would a father make pejorative comments about his son? And, can discouragement be "inherited?" I have come to believe that the reason you hear these kinds of put-downs coming out of the mouths of parents one would expect to be defending and advocating for the child is that many of these parents have similar disabilities themselves, and have incorporated these biases into their own self-concepts after years of being put-down by others for their own weaknesses.

So how can we facilitate a change to this system where students with disabilities not only face undue barriers to full access to an inclusive education, but also face continual verbal put-downs for failing to perform to their potential because they did not have appropriate accommodations? How can we facilitate a fundamental shift back to a time where families and communities were the center of learning, producing hard-working, community-minded citizens, employers and employees? How does science and technology fit into this picture and when is the old-fashioned "human touch" the only appropriate method?

Come back for part two of "is discouragement inherited?"

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