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Parenting Complex Kids with a Coach-Like Approach

Heard on the LDA Podcast

Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a master certified coach and co-founder of ImpactParents, discusses executive functioning, social-emotional regulation, behavior challenges, communicating with the school, and the the four phases of parenting as a way that parents can provide support while encouraging independence. 

Check out ImpactParents’ free resources at:

Read the Transcript:

Lauren Clouser [00:00:06]:

Welcome to the LDA podcast. a series by the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the LDA podcast. I’m here today with Elaine Taylor Klaus. She is a master certified coach, writer, speaker, mother, and co-founder of Impact Parents, an organization that supports parents of complex kids. Elaine, thank you again for joining us on the podcast this time to talk about parenting, and welcome.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:00:41]:

Really, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here, always.

Lauren Clouser [00:00:46]:

We love having you back. So to start off, could you introduce yourself a little bit and tell us about your parenting journey?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:00:52]:

Yeah, you know, it’s been an interesting journey. It continues to be. I am the mom of 3, what I like to call complex kids, who are now all young adults. And as an early mom in those first 10 years, it was a pretty traumatic experience as a parent. I had complex kids. I didn’t understand it. I was complex myself. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know that they had ADD or I had ADD or anxiety or learning disabilities or all that. And so, the long story short is that I went back to have myself evaluated in my early forties when I kinda looked at my husband and I said there’s no way he can be responsible for all of this neurology, and turns out I was diagnosed with with both learning and attention issues in my early forties. 

And so, you know, my whole life made sense, and my kids were complicated. They were complicated to raise and complicated to educate, because the blend of neurodivergence was very different for each of them. And so my journey took me eventually to coaching, which gave me a whole different way of being with them and taught me how to communicate with them in a way that was really empowering for them and help them know themselves and learn to manage themselves, which is why I now do what I do because I realized that that it’s all about empowering these amazing young kids to become the amazing adults they have the capacity to be. 

You know, I used to say to my kids all the time, you have an amazing brain, and you’re going to be an amazing adult, we just gotta help you get there.

Lauren Clouser [00:02:39]:

Well, and to build off of that, could you tell us about your work at Impact Parents?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:02:45]:

Yes. So Impact Parents was originally Impact ADHD. And then in 2020, a few months into the pandemic, my book came out. I don’t remember whether it was the second or third book that came out, called the Essential Guide To Raising Complex Kids With ADHD, Anxiety, and More. And so we shifted, we expanded from Impact ADHD to Impact Parents because we wanted to really reflect the full range of parents that we’ve been supporting for, by that point, 10 years because it’s very rarely just about ADHD, just about dyslexia, or just about anxiety. You know, most of these kids come with what I like to call a complex neurological soup. And so we really need to understand all the different ingredients to that soup. And so Impact Parents was established to bring a coach approach to parenting complex kids. 

There was a lot of support available for these kids, and there was very little around, this was back in 2010, 2011, very, very little available for parents. It’s hard for us to understand now. But at that time, there was almost nothing, and the focus was so much on kids, and nobody was talking about the role of the parent. And we know that the role of the parent is fundamental to the success of these kids and yet the parents were kind of left to talk to a therapist for 5 minutes at the end of a session. I mean, there was just not a lot of support. 

So we discovered when we became coaches, my business partner, Diane Dempster and I met each other and both had a parallel experience, which was when we became coaches, we became better parents, and it wasn’t rocket science. We realized it was something we could teach to other parents. So the secret to what we do is we teach coaching skills to parents. Not to train them to become their kids’ coach, but for them to take what we like to say a coach-like approach to parenting. And we provide training and coaching and support and a combination of those 3 things is what seems to be the the magic, the secret sauce to really helping parents shift the dynamic to be the parent their kids need them to be and a way to empower and foster a better relationship and better communication which is really what sets the foundation of place to help these kids take ownership of themselves and without shame and without guilt and without embarrassment, but to really begin to advocate for themselves in a powerful way.

Lauren Clouser [00:05:16]:

Yeah. That’s so key. Yeah. Well, and I like how you said ‘the soup’ as well. There’s often a lot of different things going on rather than just one thing like ADHD. And one of those ingredients that we get a lot of questions about is executive functioning skills. So could you let us know some common strategies that parents can use that can help with the executive functioning skills, and could you let people know what executive functions are?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:05:38]:

I was going to say let’s start by just kind of explaining. Let’s back it up. So executive function kind of tends to be what’s underlying all of these different issues we’re talking about. Now with the exception maybe of some of the learning disabilities that are more specific, like dyslexia, certain language processing, they may not have an executive function underpinning, although they may. Because working memory is an executive function. Executive function is that part of our brain, the mature, developed part of our brain that helps us think, feel, and act. It’s when I get from ‘I think I should do this’ to thinking through how to do it and then actually doing that. All of it relies on executive function. And then emotion lands in there, and doing lands in there, and thinking and processing, it’s all executive functions.

So when our executive function part of our brain is either challenged or delayed in any way, it impacts everything in our lives. It impacts our thinking, our school, our relationships, our social dynamics, our everything. And so what we’ve learned in the last 10, 20 years is that when we begin to really focus on understanding executive function, we can break down where our kids are struggling and help them much more effectively because we are able to develop solutions and strategies that address the specific challenge they’re facing. So it’s not just trouble with reading or trouble with managing my emotions, but now we can begin to break down and say, well, maybe the trouble with reading is because I’m having a hard time with working memory and holding information in my head, or there’s a way to externalize it, or maybe my eyes aren’t processing properly. So there’s a way to color code it, or if it’s emotional dysregulation, it’s like maybe I’m not feeling trusted or I’m not feeling safe or, like, the more specific and granular we can be the more effective we can be at problem solving. 

And our goal here is to stop problem solving for our kids and to start enrolling them and inviting them to the process of problem solving for themselves. We want to help them understand what their strengths are and what their challenges are without shame, you know, so that we can help them begin to figure out what their best solutions are. The amazing thing about these kids is they know better than we do if we give them a chance. If we ask them, if we check-in with them and guide them, they know what works for them.

Lauren Clouser [00:08:23]:

Definitely. We also get a lot of questions about homework and, you know, we want to let kids, like you just said, solve their own problems. Do you have any recommendations for how parents can help their children with homework without intervening too much? Is there a good balance? What’s some of your advice for that?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:08:43]:

So let’s go back. We want to help them solve their own problems, but we don’t want to do that. We want to set them up for success in solving their problems. Let me say it differently. We teach a four step thing that’s called the 4 phases parenting. And the notion is that that as parents or this is also applicable for educators, or a therapist, anybody working with young people, kids of any age. So we start off as directors, because they’re little and they need us to direct them and tell them what to do and help them find their motivation to do it. And our goal over time is to shift out of director mode. And then the next 3 phases are we go from director to collaborator to supporter to champion. Those are the roles that we as the adults play in fostering independence in our kids. 

Now it’s not a linear process with our kids. Though, they’re going to be ready for us to be directors in some areas of their lives and supporters and others. You have a kid who’s really good at, let’s say, soccer, they may be able to manage all of their stuff getting ready to practice, but still need us to be collaborators when it comes to getting started on homework. We’re going to come back to homework. I promise. So the best metaphor I’ve got for this, we used to talk about in terms of transferring the baton when you’re in a relay. 

What I’ve shifted to, I really love this one, is if you’ve ever taught or seen somebody get on a horse and learn to ride a horse, when you put a kid on a horse, you start them off at a ring where you’re holding the reins. They’re just sitting on the horse. Right? That’s director mode. We’re holding the reins and guiding them around the ring. They were just getting them comfortable. And then we hand them the reins, but we’re still holding the bit. Right? So we’re still guiding the horse around, but now they’re holding the reins. They’re learning to move them around. They’re trying to figure out how to move the horse’s head. They’re practicing. We’re in collaboration mode. Now we’re both leading the horse. We’re practicing it together. 

And then at some point, we let go of the horse. We move to the side ring, and we let them start walking that horse around the ring themselves. They’re guiding the head. They’re communicating to the horse. Now they’re in ownership. They’re in the lead, and we move into this support role. We’re still close. We’re still there. If they ask questions, we’re like, well, you might try this. We’re guiding. And then at some point, we let them go out on a trail. And that’s what we call champion mode, they’re now leading, they’re in charge, they know we’re there if they need help. Maybe we’re at the front of the row or maybe we’re at the back. They know that we’re available and they can ask us, but they’re really in charge of themselves. 

And as parents and adults in the lives of complex kids, we want to remember that our kids want to get to autonomy and agency and independence. And so we want to provide the least amount of direction and control that’s possible to set them up for success so that they begin to take ownership, but not so little that they feel lost and they feel alone and they feel like they don’t know what to do. And what happens with executive function with a lot of kids is that because often our kids are delayed, they may not have been available to learn the skill when it was taught to their same age peers. So we may have to catch them up or may we may have to teach the skill differently because they weren’t able to process it in the way that their peers were. 

So part of setting them up for success is understanding these underlying executive function skills and making sure that not only they have the ownership to step out on their own and start guiding that horse, but that they have the skills they need to do so. And what happens with executive function is oftentimes, our kids want to be doing it all on their own, but they don’t yet quite have the skills to do that. So our job is to stay in connection with them and communication with them enough that they are able to kind of learn those skills and work with us to cultivate those skills without pushing us away. 

And, you know, if we’re sticking with these 4 phases for a minute, what often happens particularly with preteens and teens and older kids is that parents will be in director mode. And when we have complex kids, we often get stuck there because our kids have executive function challenges. We’re afraid they’re going to not be successful. We’re afraid they’re not going to get it done. We have our own perfection issues. There’s a lot of reasons we do this. We stay in control mode way too long. And then when they hit, like, 10, 12, 14, or older, they start resisting that. They’re developmentally ready to start doing more on their own. And if we’re still in director mode and they’re ready for something else, they’re not going to say, can we collaborate on this? They’re going to say ‘back off, mom and dad. I’ve got this. Stay out of it, teach. I’ve got it,’ and they’re going to ask us, expect us, to jump all the way to phase 4 to that empower role, that champion role. But they’re not ready for it. 

So our job as the adults in their lives, you can’t see me, but I’ve got my hands kind of going back and forth. The 4 phases, there’s one on one side, 4 on the other, and we’re trying to stay between the 2 and 3: collaboration and support, collaboration support, back and forth, back and forth. We want to keep collaborating with them to take agency and ownership and buy in and then supporting them while they practice and problem solve and figure out for themselves. So that was a really long answer to get back to your question about homework. Right? 

So the answer to homework is and it’s going to be very different depending on the age of the kid, obviously. But think about what I was just saying. We start off directing them. When it comes to homework, If they don’t have some sense of agency and buy in, we’re going to be directing them forever. Until they just stop doing it or they give up or they stop trying or they push back or all these things that happen very typically with complex kids because they don’t see their own capacity. And I remember one of my kids said to me once, don’t you see mom if I haven’t done it, I haven’t done it wrong. So they’ve got their own perfectionism and their own challenges coming into play here. 

So when it comes to homework, we want to begin to shift out of director mode and into collaboration mode as early as we can, and you can do this with really little kids. And instead of what do ‘we’ have for homework today, right, where you’ve got to do this, it becomes you asking questions like, what do ‘you’ have for homework tonight? What’s your expectation, beginning to enroll them and seeing it as theirs, step out of that trap of saying, I need you to. I need you to get your homework done. That’s about me, and we want them to see their homework as something they’re doing as part of their education. What do you want to get done tonight? What is your teacher asking from you? What are you and your friends doing tonight? So that when we shift to them, they start to see it as theirs. That’s that collaboration piece. And probably the number one thing we can do as parents when it comes to homework is to stop making it be about us and to start making it helping it be about them so that they can begin to own it without all of that stuff around it that makes it become this trigger thing. 

Eventually, they’ll get to a point where they’re like, back off mama. I gotta get my homework done. You’ll get there. That’s when we move into a support role, but we want to start by really stepping into as much collaboration as possible. And the thing we do in collaboration mode is ask as many questions as we can. What have you got for homework tonight? What’s on your agenda? They’re like, I don’t know. It’s like, well, instead of, why don’t you call your friend to find out, you might ask a question. What do you think you can do to find out? 

The more we ask questions, the more we bring them into ownership, and we bring them into their process of problem solving. And our goal really with these kids is to bring them through the process of problem solving again and again and again and again and again, right, all the time, not from a stress place, but from a practice place. We want them to practice again and again.

Lauren Clouser [00:17:24]:

I love that answer.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:17:26]:

It was a long answer to it. Just a question, but homework. — a lot of stuff. — homework is not simple. And so here’s the other thing that comes up, right, is that homework is not one thing. Homework is a million pieces. And so from an executive function perspective, we want to break it down. When we say getting our kid to do homework, that’s kinda like saying getting our kid out the door in the morning. Think about it. There are 20 things from the pillow to the bus stop. So we want to break it down and look at where the obstacle is, is the obstacle getting started, knowing what the homework is in the first place, getting started, focusing, keeping your focus. Like, are you doing a brain break after school and getting some protein in before you start homework? Do they have enough time really to do their homework? Do they know what it is? I cannot tell you how many times my kids did the wrong homework assignment and how stressful that is for them and how stressful that is for us. Is it completing the homework? Is it turning it in? 

So there are so many pieces that we can break it down to say when we’re talking about homework, We have to take aim really specifically and know what the challenges we’re trying to address. And our job as parents, I keep saying that, but here’s another job we have as parents is to scaffold it so that we’re taking aim with them on one area we’re trying to foster their independence. Maybe they’re working on getting started or staying focused or completing it. We’re going to scaffold all those other steps I meant and keep supporting them and helping them get that done so that they can take ownership in that one area and be successful because when they’re successful, that breeds more success. 

And the solutions, all of their solutions are in their successes. So we really want to foster some wins and help them see that they have the capacity to get better at…let’s call it just completing it. What does it take for you to get it done? That last 10%, 20% Oh my gosh. That could be so stressful. What does it take? How are you going to be successful with that? because if they hit that metric, they know they’ve got the capacity to learn and improve.

Lauren Clouser [00:19:30]:

Definitely. Well, and to switch gears just a little bit into social emotional regulation. What should parents know about the link between learning disabilities and ADHD and some behavioral challenges and social emotional regulation?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:19:49]:

What we need to understand is that it’s all connected. And that up until about 10, 15 years ago, didn’t really understand that emotional regulation was a part of executive function. We thought it was completely a different part of the brain, the limbic system. And while there is an executive function aspect to it, and there’s…I don’t want to get too down the rabbit hole because it’s complicated and the brain is an interesting, fascinating place. But the short short version of it is that if where our brains aren’t emotionally regulated, our nervous system is taxed, if our limbic system gets involved or our primitive brain gets involved, we’re starting to get triggered or we’re full on triggered, then we’re no longer available for learning. Our frontal lobe, the executive part of our brain that actually learns, is not available to learn if it’s triggered in any way. 

And so it’s interesting. We just did a 3 day live tel-a-summit called the ADHD Parents Palooza, this is being recorded in early August of 2023, and we did a 3 day palooza, and we had all these amazing speakers. There were 25 guests. It was just fabulous. And the most consistent theme throughout all of these guests, whether they were talking about school or organization or social skills or emotional, any of it, was connection. It was the importance of connecting and building trust and building relationships. And we do that with these kids when we slow down to speed up. Right? When we stay present and be in relationship with them, and help notice when they’re starting to get upset or triggered. And then we help them identify those triggers, regulate their nervous system, and learn tools and strategies to calm themselves down. 

And when we take on, are you getting the homework done, but when you get upset and you want to rip up the paper, are you stopping and using your strategies? Are you taking your deep breaths and taking a brain break? What are you doing to calm yourself down again so that you’re available to do the work, that you’re available to learning. We somehow want to believe that their emotional regulation is disconnected. And as parents that I know, I’m guilty of this, we used to always try to push him through, I know you’re upset, but if you can just spend 10 more, if you can just do this more, well, the truth is once they’re upset, they can’t do those 3 more problems. Or it’s going to take him 3 hours to do what should take him 10 minutes. 

So we really want to pause and acknowledge and honor what’s going on in their brain because when the brain is hijacked, we call it a mental hijack, you can’t just get the brain back online. You have to recognize that it’s happening. You have to reclaim your brain. There are a lot of ways you can do that, but if we don’t teach our kids to reclaim their brain, and whether it’s through wall push ups, or wheelbarrows around the house, or we used to keep a pull-up bar in our kitchen, whatever it is, protein snacks, going outdoors, put your feet in the grass, if we don’t teach our kids to reclaim their brain, we’re sending a false message that somehow you can just push through this. And if you just try harder, you can do this. Because this is not about trying harder when your brain is offline. Then you gotta get it back online. You gotta reboot. And sometimes you have to wait a few minutes for that computer to reboot. And it’s very much the same with our brain. We’ve got to slow down to speed up and recognize that emotional dysregulation, or to say it differently, emotional regulation is foundational to social relationships, to any family dynamic relationships and to being available to do any kind of school work.

Lauren Clouser [00:23:58]:

And when kids are having some challenging behaviors or they’re being triggered, and ways that are likely related to their learning disabilities, what are some good ways that parents can react?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:24:10]:

Oh, so many things come to me from that. So one of my kids, my middle kid, just started medical school. And this is a kid who has ADHD anxiety, and dyslexia from early, early on, diagnosed very early on. So, you know, that’s the reminder that these kids can be seriously successful and be really, really bright, and it can be a hard journey. And I remember with her in particular, the beauty of the dyslexia, interestingly enough, was because with dyslexia, we were able to get her to get it remediated, and she learned strategies. She learned that strategies worked. And so she was willing and more receptive to using other strategies. 

And so I remember one time in particular, she’s maybe in middle school, and she was freaking out about, one of her biggest challenges was choosing a topic. She has a lot of decision fatigue, and she really struggled with that. And I remember sitting on the stairs next to her as she’s freaking out and I sat down next to her, and I just started by saying, are you aware that you’re really upset right now, that you’re really stressed out by this? Just like slowing down and saying ‘are you aware that this is actually your anxiety talking right now, that this isn’t you. This is your anxiety.’ And it kind of threw her off a little bit and got her attention enough to be able to to slow it down, and we had, by this point, we had some strategies in place. 

We had a brainstorm, not when they’re triggered, but at a different time, what are some strategies you might use when you’re upset and you’re triggered? First you gotta understand what it is that triggers you. For her, we knew that writing could trigger her. And so for many years, I was her scribe, when she would come home and tell me what her homework was, and I would write it down for her. And then I would let her tell me where on the page she would want me to write it. So it was her structure, it was her outline. I was just doing the actual writing. And then over time, she would take that on. So there’s a piece about identifying where the upsets are, what are the trigger points. So for a kid with dyslexia, for example, or with dysgraphia, sometimes if you can take the motor coordination piece out of it while they’re thinking, then she can do the thinking part, and I can do the writing part, for example. And so as you break it down, you say, ok, what tends to get you upset or triggered, and let’s problem solve around that. So the first step is understanding what the triggers are. And then you really want to look at, okay, what are some strategies you might use to bring yourself back when you’re triggered. 

And so, in one of my books, I call it a calming… and it’s not necessarily a box, it’s just a list of strategies. So maybe it’s building up blocks and knocking them down. I had one kid who used to love to take a baseball bat to the recycling boxes and break down the recycling with a baseball bat to get that energy and that aggression out. As I said, wall push ups, drinking water, protein snacks. I mean, there are a million techniques you can come up with. You want to try to avoid the ‘I’ll just get on social media or tiktok for the next 2 hours.’ We’re looking at constructive, strategies for management, but you may want to help your kid brainstorm a nice healthy list of of several strategies that they can choose from so that when they are starting to get triggered, you’re able to say are you noticing you’re getting triggered, what strategy would you like to use? What strategy would you like to try? What do you want to try first? 

I remember one point when I was first learning to do this, I hadn’t quite gotten this. So I was saying to my kids just take 3 deep breaths. And then I would tell him what to do instead of helping him cultivate what his best strategy was. And then so he would sit there when he goes, (three rapid breaths) okay, I’m calm now. Well, obviously he wasn’t calm now because it wasn’t his strategy. It was mine. And so I had to really work with him to help him figure out what really does calm you down. I had one kid who would, we had a climbing tree in the front of the house, and they would climb the tree, or I’m going to do my reading first because I can do that in the tree. And then I’m going to do my math. So I’m going to get some success. 

One kid who liked to read the comics before he started. Just knowing what gets you into that chill place and what can bring you back to the chill place. So really guiding our kids to understand the value of reclaiming your brain and knowing what strategies they’re going to try to use to reclaim your brain is 90% of it, really. And holding them accountable to using the strategy instead of, are you calm or not? Because nobody in the history of the world has ever calmed down by telling them to calm down. Right? It’s just not going to happen. So what we want to say is, invite them to: it seems like you’re getting upset. This would be a good time to use some strategies, hone down what strategy do you want to use? And then you could come back later and say, hey, I want you to go give yourself two points. You used that strategy today, and you or you tried to use that strategy. And I know it was really frustrating. It didn’t work this time. Are you willing to try it again?

Lauren Clouser [00:29:44]:

So when you’re communicating with your child’s school or their teacher, sometimes that can be a little difficult. There can be a lot of emotions involved. But do you have any recommendations on how you can best communicate with the school so you can advocate for what your child needs?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:30:01]:

First of all, all of you who are listening take the deep breath because there’s nothing like that email at the end of the day that has you just kind of bracing yourself for whatever is coming. I’ve so been there, and it’s so exhausting. We have a lot of stuff on the website Impact Parents. We’ve been publishing content now for a dozen years, original content every week. And so there’s a lot of pieces by teachers and parents and coaches, strategies around this. So I would invite people…There’s a couple of beautiful articles by Chris Dendy, the late Chris Dendy who was an icon in this realm, so I would invite people to look there for some guidance on that. So, yeah, there’s a great article by Chris Dendy specifically on that topic. The thing for us to remember is that we want to be on the same team with our teachers. So let me step back. 

Sadly, the way the systems work, oftentimes our teachers do not have as strong an education around the complex issues we’re dealing with as we think that they do and we think that they should. And that is not their fault. They are working in a very complex, and some of us might argue, broken system. They’re there because they care. They want to do their best, and they are not always being set up for success. The expectations placed on teachers is outrageous, and they often don’t have the education. So I remember going in there thinking, well, the teacher must understand dyslexia and ADHD. And they didn’t. Until I got my kid into a special program, they did not. And so we do have to become experts on things we didn’t know we had to be experts in, and we do have to be our teacher’s educators sometimes. We want to do that from a place of invitation, not from a place of, insistence. So it’s not I need you to read about this to know my kid to be a better teacher to my kid, but it’s: I’ve been reading about this, and I think it might be really helpful, it helped me understand my kid better. Would you be open to it? Would it be okay if I bring you some materials? 

We’ve had parents buy their teachers access to Sanity School for Teachers before. But you don’t want to do it from a blaming place that suggests and judges, you don’t know this, but that comes from a place of: you must have so much on your plate and so many kids, and I know this is so hard for you. I’d love to be able to support you, really. What’s the best way? And maybe it’s asking the teachers, I know that we might be talking more than you do with other parents in this school year. Do you prefer text? Do you prefer email? Do you prefer the beginning of the day, end of the day? Like, if you start with some acknowledgement and compassion of their experience and what they’re going through. 

They’re real people, just like you. Most of them are moms, you know, or parents, just like us. We have a tool that we teach in Sanity School called ACE: acknowledgement plus compassion. If we start the conversation by really acknowledging what their experience is with compassion. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be trying to navigate life post-COVID. I really honor what you’re doing as a teacher. And really meet them where they are as humans before we start explaining it or we’re exploring options or asking for what we want. You’re going to get so much more with honey. You want to enroll them in being on your team, acknowledge that they want to help your kid and invite them to offer to support them and help them in that process. Instead of that tendency to come in guns blazing and blame them for everything that’s going on. 

Now that’s not to say that you don’t sometimes run into an old school teacher from a different time of the world who just believes our kids should just try harder. And sometimes life is about learning to navigate challenges. Our kids are likely to end up with bosses that aren’t so supportive at some point too. So maybe that’s the challenge of this particular school year or this particular semester is learning how to navigate this one teacher who is just never, bless her heart, never going to understand. That may happen. There is an article on the site called ‘Bless her heart. She just doesn’t understand.’ Not about a teacher, about a family member, but you’re going to run into that. 

Overall, these teachers are there because they care and they want to learn. And if they don’t understand they tend to be very open to learning if we can invite them to learn in a way that is nonjudgmental and that is as easy as possible for them and can really help them. You know, I mentioned we have a program called Sanity School for Teachers, and we have that program because we had so many parents who had taken Sanity School as our behavior training program for parents. We had so many parents who had taken it who were also teachers who came back to us and said, oh my god, this is transforming my classroom. Can you help me? And so they helped us create a version for teachers so that teachers can learn to take a coach-like approach in their classroom and really meet kids where they are, lighten the load for the kids by really understanding what’s happening with this underlying neurodivergence and how kids are reacting and responding to it in in that environment. So our job is to cultivate the team and to really realize these teachers are trying to be on our team.

Lauren Clouser [00:36:04]:

Yeah. That’s such great advice and so important to keep in mind.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:36:11]:

It’s hard because we get to be mama bears and we get to try to defend our kids and, you know, sometimes particularly as they get older because a lot of times in traditional school environments as kids get older, particularly in high school years, they there’s this assumption that these kids should be able to do this on their own. And that’s true for neurotypical kids, but for neurodivergent kids, they are developmentally delayed, and they’re typically 3 to 5 years behind their same age peers in some parts of their development. So they may need more scaffolding for longer than their peers because their brains aren’t quite ready to function as independently as some of their same age peers. And teachers have a hard time understanding that sometimes. It’s definitely something that we have to invite them to understand.

Lauren Clouser [00:37:02]:

Definitely. So, Elaine, you can personally speak to this. So I was going to ask what recommendations do you have for parents who have a learning disability themselves. Sometimes there’s sort of a panic of how can I help them if I have the same thing?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:37:17]:

Yeah. So often we have parents, and just this week in the Palooza, the parents who will say, I can’t do this if I can’t do it for myself. And what I would say is if you know you’ve got these issues too as you start to manage your own issues, you become the best model in the world for your kids. And I don’t care whether your kid is 6, 12, 16, 20, or 26, or older. When you start navigating yourself better, when you start acknowledging, I have struggles with this area. I could use some help. I’m going to ask for some help without blame or shame or guilt. I’m not going to be embarrassed that I’m going to ask for help. I’m going to ask for help because I need it. There’s nothing better you can do to model for your kids. 

And when you know you’ve got issues, whether it’s attention issues or learning issues, and you begin to verbalize how you’re managing it and ask for help with it and ask your kids for help, it neutralizes the stigma around asking for help. There’s so much stigma around asking for help. And when you normalize that for your kids, they begin the biggest issue parents face, I think, as our kids get older, is we get frustrated, why won’t they take the help I’m offering? Or why won’t they ask for help? Or that I’m offering the help, why won’t they use it? And so there’s two pieces of it. It’s asking for help, and then it’s accepting help. And they’re not going to accept help if they feel shame around it, if they feel like they shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with it. They need us to normalize it, but not from a lecturing way, which we don’t need to tell them. You should accept help. It would be good for you. 

We need to model it by saying, hey. I was on the phone with my coach today, and I learned this new thing where I was just in this new cool support group, or I joined this parenting class and I’m learning about…whatever it is, I have a new way, I realized that if I hold the bookmark under the line, it makes reading easier for me. If you start verbalizing your management and your success, if you stop verbalizing beating yourself up, those tendencies we have to say, I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I did that. There I am again. If we stop doing that, and we start modeling. Wow. That was a mistake. I gotta note that and try to avoid that one next time. Or, oh, man, I turned left today, and I wish I had turned right. And it had all of these implications. Next time, I really have to slow down and pay attention to where I think about where I’m going before I start driving the car, whatever your example is. 

If you can do it without beating yourself up, that’s the key, and ask for the help you need. So if you’re struggling with learning issues, now a lot of us when we have learning disabilities as adults, there’s not a lot of remediation out there for us. There’s some, but not a lot. And so mostly what happens is we learn to accommodate. We learn to manage our lives. I I believe in playing to your strengths and outsource your challenges. So I learned that I’m going to do better if I can listen to a podcast than if I have to read something, or I’m going to do even better if I have a conversation with someone. My daughter likes to listen and read at the same time. So knowing what works for you. 

One of the conversations in palooza, it was such a good palooza this year, Alan Brown was talking about embrace the pace. Like, accept whatever your challenges or your disability is or whatever however you want to language it, and accept it. Be with it. It’s okay. It may be the truth is that I’m a really slow reader. That’s okay. It could be with that, and I can acknowledge that without beating myself up for it. And so as parents, our biggest opportunity is to cultivate that challenge. We call it, in coaching, failing forward. If I can I can fail forward and say, okay what do I have to learn from this? What’s the opportunity in this instead of only seeing it as a deficit? 

Kids don’t want us to be perfect. In fact, kids hate it when we’re perfect. And twenty something year old kids, there’s nothing they like better for us to say, I messed up on that. I mean, it’s like music to their ears, teenagers too, because they don’t want us to be perfect. When we position ourselves as if we’re supposed to know everything, it makes them feel really uncomfortable. Like, am I supposed to get there? And I’m afraid I’m never going to get there. And because none of us are perfect, and we’re perfectly imperfect and we’re human. And so when we give ourselves permission to be human, we give our kids permission to be human. 

And the way that people learn is to learn through mistakes. And if they feel like they’re not allowed to make mistakes, only allowed to do it perfectly, then they begin to become resistant to learning at all. I was talking to my coach today, and I said, you know, when I was a kid growing up, I didn’t know I had learning and attention issues. I just knew that I was going to do anything I could to avoid making mistakes. And so I majored in something I hated. I did all kinds of things because I wasn’t going to do anything I didn’t think I could do well. And so I missed a lot of opportunities in my life. I probably should have been a psychologist. I’m now really glad that I wasn’t because I love coaching so much better, and I clearly found my calling. But had I not avoided an entire thing because I didn’t know how to take tests, I might have gone a different direction in my life. 

And so we really want to help our kids see that we’re all a work in progress and invite them to be okay with that. And in fact, to see the gift of being different and the gift of being uniquely ourselves and to get curious about what it is that makes us who we are and what our strengths are and what our challenges are.

Lauren Clouser [00:43:52]:

Absolutely. Well, Elaine, thank you so much for this conversation. You’re just a wealth of information. I’m sure we could have kept talking for hours.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:44:02]:

Thank you. Thank you for having me. Can I say one more thing before we wrap, Lauren? What I want to invite our listeners to really consider is that our role as the adults in the lives of complex kids is to help them see themselves without shame and to help them see their full capacity and to help them see that they may not see it, and that’s okay too. Because they’re struggling, and it’s harder for them than it is for their typical peers. And so we don’t want to excuse that, but we do want to help them see that we see that, and we know that just the effort of getting up or going to school or trying to pick up your pencil and do a paper or whatever. Just the effort for a lot of our kids is a lot. 

And so, you know, the work that I do is all about taking a coach approach. It’s about meeting them where they are, wherever they are, and helping to raise the bar from there. But that means taking the time to understand them, to understand their neurodivergence, to help them understand themselves and gently invite them to grow. And the word invitations come up a lot today. We want to ask their permission to guide them instead of assuming that we have permission because we’re the authority. We want to foster their sense of agency and control their sense of ownership, and we want to invite them to take ownership of their life a little bit by a little bit and let them know we see that that may be scary for them and that’s okay. We’re going to support them, we see what they’re capable of. And these kids, when somebody believes in them, that’s what makes the biggest difference in the world for them to begin to believe in themselves. 

So I invite you all to consider the coach approach, we have a podcast parenting with Impact Podcasts, and I hope you all your listeners, since you’re listening here, will join us listening there as well and really think about taking the information, because you have such amazing information on this podcast and in this organization, you know, I’m a huge fan of LDA. And it’s really important that we as adults in these kids’ lives remember that information is not enough. Our job is to integrate that information and learn how to implement it in real life. It’s not enough to know what to do. You gotta figure out how to do it. That’s what we do at Impact Parents, is really to help you figure out how, in community with support without judgment. And to all of you listening, that’s really what I hope you leave with is knowing that the information that I’ve shared today is important. 

And it’s not nearly as important as you pausing, taking a breath, letting it soak in, integrating it, and beginning to think about how do I want to implement this? So my question to you would be, what’s one gem you’re taking away from today? What’s one insight that you’ve taken away from this conversation? Because when you really let yourself think about, okay, what’s my insight? Maybe it’s to invitation, or maybe it’s to be more gentle with myself and kinder to myself. Whatever your one insight is that you’re taking from this conversation, that’s the insight that will help you begin to integrate and implement and use this in your life.

Lauren Clouser [00:47:46]:

Yeah. That’s such a good point. I’m so glad you brought that up. Elaine, thank you again for having this conversation and for taking the time to share your wisdom with us.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus [00:47:53]:

I appreciate the invitation. I’m always happy to come back and thanks for having me. And to those of you listening, Thanks for what you’re doing for yourself and for your kids. It makes a difference.

Lauren Clouser [00:48:12]:

Thank you for listening to the LDA podcast. To learn more about LDA and to get valuable resources and support, visit

Meet Our Members: Meet Peter Flom!

Tell us about yourself!

When I was 5 years old, I was asked not to return to kindergarten. A psychologist told my parents I had “minimal brain dysfunction” and “would never go to college.” My mother got together with Elizabeth Friedus and started the Gateway School for me. I got my BA at 20 and now have two MAs and a PhD. I also have two grown kids. I’ve written a book about LD (Screwed Up Somehow but not Stupid: Life with a Learning Disability) and am working on my memoir (Twice as Weird: A Memoir about 2E).

What’s a fun fact about you?

I can juggle.

Why did you become a member of LDA?

I’m learning disabled, my older kid is also LD, I write about LD, and advocate for LD. How could I not join?

LDA Publishes SLD Evaluation Principles and Standards

The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) announces the publication of a groundbreaking research paper titled “Specific Learning Disabilities Evaluation Principles and Standards.”  LDA and an interdisciplinary team of researchers and practitioners partnered to develop new SLD Evaluation Principles and Standards in response to alarming achievement gaps between students with learning disabilities and their non-disabled peers.  

The purpose of these standards is to guide best practices for the evaluation and identification of specific learning disabilities. The standards will guide professionals in developing a comprehensive evaluation and written report that describes the nature of the specific learning disability, the area and levels of impairment, and specific considerations for practitioners to develop individualized interventions designed to meet the unique academic, linguistic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs of the student. 

“The LDA SLD Evaluation Principles and Standards represent an interdisciplinary and international research-to-practice lens, to provide the LD field guidance in implementing a comprehensive whole-child approach to the SLD evaluation connected to informed individualized instruction/intervention for struggling learners,” said Dr. David Allsop, a co-author of the research paper.  

The SLD Evaluation is guided by seven foundational principles; the SLD Evaluation is 1) interdisciplinary, 2) research-informed, 3) consequently valid, 4) dynamic and iterative, 5) whole-child focused, 6) strengths-based, and 7) universally benevolent. LDA believes these principles serve as a foundation for establishing a common ethos among stakeholders with respect to the SLD evaluation and its connection to practice. 

Dr. Elsa Cardenas-Hagan, one of the authors of the research paper, stated “The LDA Assessment Standards serve as a roadmap for accurate diagnosis of learning disabilities, among all students including English learners/Emergent Bilinguals.”

This research paper serves as a valuable resource for educators, psychologists, policymakers, and anyone interested in enhancing the quality of education and support for individuals with specific learning disabilities.

Resources Page for: Specific Learning Disability Evaluation Principles and Standards

Find links to the resources included in Specific Learning Disability Evaluations and Standards.

Principles of The SLD Evaluation Standards

Standards for the SLD Evaluation

Ability Achievement Relations

CHC Broad & Narrow Abilities

Tools for CHC Interpretation of major cognitive batteries developed by Catherine Fiorello: WISC-V, KABC II and WJ-IV

Linking CHC Abilities to Intervention

C-LIM and D-SNAP Resources:

Multitiered System of Supports for English Learners (

Colorín Colorado on special education and ELs:

Should we evaluate students in their home language when possible?

Questions of Culture: BEvo4ya&index=7

Full playlist here:

Self-Assessment Checklist on Cultural Competency:

About the Authors:

Dr. Monica McHale-Small

Monica McHale-Small, Ph.D., is currently an adjunct associate professor at Temple University. She retired from public education after twenty-seven years of service in Pennsylvania. Monica started her career as a school psychologist but spent the last fourteen years in a variety of administrative positions including, most recently, Superintendent. She earned her doctorate and masters’ degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. Dr. McHale-Small has long advocated bringing sound research into practice in public schools. One example of this is her role on the advisory committee for Pennsylvania’s Dyslexia Screening and Early Literacy Intervention Pilot; designed to support researched based structured literacy instruction and intervention beginning in Kindergarten. Dr. McHale-Small is an advocate for responsible inclusion and equity for historically underserved students including racially, culturally and linguistically diverse students and students with disabilities. She co-founded the Greater Lehigh Valley Consortium for Equity and Excellence and she currently consults with the ACLU of PA on School to Prison Pipeline issues. Monica has served on the Board of Directors of the Learning Disabilities Association, the International Dyslexia Association, and the National Association of Pupil Services Administrators. Monica serves her own community as a board member and volunteer advocate for Coatesville Citizens Who Seek Educational Equality.

Dr. Eric Tridas

Dr. Tridas practiced developmental and behavioral pediatrics in the Tampa Bay Area for 37 years and is a Clinical Associate Professor in Pediatrics at the University of South Florida, Morsani College of Medicine. He is Medical Director of The Tridas Group, a software company that developed an application that generates a customized evaluation report. Dr. Tridas is a member of the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities,and Past President of the International Dyslexia Association.

He is also the State Medical Director for Pediatric Health Choice-Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Facilities (PPEC). Dr. Tridas is the recipient of the 2017 International Dyslexia Association Margaret Rawson Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the International Dyslexia Association Sylvia Richardson Hall of Fame. He also received the 2012 IMSLEC Innovator Award. Dr. Tridas edited and co-authored From ABC to ADHD: What Every Parent Should Know About Dyslexia and Attention Problems. In addition, he lectures and consults nationally and internationally on behavioral and developmental pediatrics topics.

Dr. Elsa Cardenas-Hagan

Dr. Cardenas-Hagan has long been advocating for individuals with learning disabilities, especially underserved and often misclassified English Language Learners who also have learning disabilities and/or who struggle to acquire literacy skills. Her passion for these learners inspired her to author Esperanza, a Spanish language curriculum for striving readers who primarily speak Spanish. Elsa and her colleague recently did a webinar for LDA on remote learning and English Language Learners.

Elsa is currently Chair of the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, of which LDA is a member. Elsa worked with Dr. Gad Elbeheri to establish IDA’s Global Partners in recognition that dyslexia and learning disabilities impact individuals around the globe. While recognizing the need for robust evidence-based core curriculum and tiered interventions, Elsa also fervently supports a role for cognitive assessment in the identification of learning disabilities.

Dr. David Allsopp

Dr. Allsopp is professor of special education, Assistant Dean of Educator Preparation and Partnerships, and Endowed Chair/Director of the David C. Anchin Center in the College of Education at the University of South Florida. He teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, focusing on instructional methods for students with high incidence disabilities and research methods for developing and validating effective practices for students with disabilities. During his 23 years in academia, he has contributed extensively to the field of special education through research, writing, resource development, and presentations. In addition to numerous peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters, Dr. Allsopp is co-author of five books including Teaching Mathematics Meaningfully: Solutions for Struggling Learners(2nd Edition), Mathematics RTI: A Problem Solving Approach to Creating an Effective Model, and Academic Success Strategies for Adolescents with Learning Disabilities and ADHD, which has been published in three languages including English.​

Dr. Sarah van Ingen Lauer

Dr. Sarah van Ingen is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of South Florida where she co-directs the innovative and nationally recognized Urban Teacher Residency Partnership Program. In this role, she partners with Hillsborough County Public Schools’ teachers and administrators to accomplish the twin goals of improving the learning of both K-5 students and prospective teachers. She also teaches courses in mathematics education and teacher preparation at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels.

Dr. van Ingen’s research agenda lies at the intersection of equitable mathematics education and clinically rich teacher preparation. Her research interests include teachers’ use of research to inform practice, the implementation of integrated STEM lessons in K-5 classrooms, and the use of mathematics consultations to meet the mathematics learning needs of students with exceptionalities. She has published articles related to this research in peer-reviewed journals such as Teaching and Teacher Education and Action in Teacher Education and is co-author of the forthcoming second edition of the book, Teaching Mathematics Meaningfully: Solutions for Reaching Struggling Learners published by Brookes Publishing. Dr. van Ingen regularly presents her research at local, national, and international conferences.

Dr. van Ingen is currently PI of a 1.2 million dollar NSF Noyce Master Teacher Fellows grant and Co-PI on a 3.4 million U.S. Department of Education i3 Grant. She is actively engaged in service at the local and national levels. Currently, she serves as an elected officer for the American Education Research Association’s Research Use Special Interest Group and Associate Vice President and Chair of the Research Committee of the national Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators.

Dr. Kristina Scott-Quinlan

Dr. Kristina Scott-Quinlan, Ed.D. is an associate dean, professor, and program director for the special education and autism programs at Salem State University. She teaches courses to prepare early childhood, elementary, secondary, and special education teachers to enter today’s diverse classroom environments. She also oversees all areas of education licensure and works with partner districts to develop, provide programming, and redesign preparation courses at the university to reduce the theory-to-practice gap. Kristina’s research focuses on teacher preparation practices and developing social skills alongside academic content knowledge for academic and career success in preschool through university classrooms. She regularly presents at both national and international conferences. She also works nationally to evaluate teacher preparation programs. She has worked with seven different state education departments to provide technical assistance and training, ensuring high-quality teacher preparation experiences for all teacher candidates to meet the needs of the K-12 students they serve.

Dr. Gad Elbeheri

Dr. Gad Elbeheri is the Founder and Managing Director of Global Educational Consultants (Egypt). Previously, Dr. Elbeheri was the Dean of the Australian College of Kuwait (2012/2017) and the Executive Director of the Centre for Child Evaluation & Teaching (2006/2011). An applied linguist who obtained his PhD from the University of Durham, UK, Dr. Elbeheri has a keen interest in cross-linguistic studies of specific learning difficulties and inclusive education. Dr. Elbeheri has made over 40 conference and seminar presentations around the world. He has published over 9 books in both English and Arabic in the field of dyslexia, and over 10 peer reviewed journal articles on dyslexia and its manifestations in Arabic. He has participated in producing nationally standardized tests and computer-based screening programs in Arabic.

Dr. Elbeheri brings a global perspective to learning disabilities assessment and intervention. He presented at the October Science to Practice Forum on how RTI is being implemented in the Arabic world. Dr. Elbeheri believes there are many individuals in the Arabic world that would benefit from learning of the work of LDA.

I Went Ahead and Proved Them Wrong: A Talk with Katie Selby

Heard on The LDA Podcast

Because of her language impairment and learning disabilities, Katie Selby was often told that she wasn’t ‘college material.’ After learning how to advocate for herself in high school, Katie went on to earn the degree she had been dreaming of, and now brings her life experience into the classroom as a paraeducator for students with disabilities. 

Read the Transcript

Lauren Clouser, Host:

Welcome to the LDA podcast. a series by the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of intro to educators, individuals of learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world.

Lauren Clouser:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the LDA podcast. I’m here today with Katie Selby, the College Material Girl. I thank you so much for being here on the show, Katie. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Katie Selby:

I am a person with a language impairment and learning disabilities. I had people in my life tell me that I wasn’t college material, even though I had disabilities. So I went ahead and proved them wrong and went to college and got the degree that I wanted. And I’m a paraeducator as well for children with disabilities.

Lauren Clouser:

That’s awesome. And I can’t wait to dive into that a little bit more later. But to start, could you tell us a little bit about your journey with learning disabilities, including your diagnosis?

Katie Selby:

I began my special education journey at the age of three, and they continued through high school. I was diagnosed with a language impairment at the age of three. At that age, I communicated by using gestures and pointing to get my needs met. I didn’t say my first sentence until I was 5. To this day, I wish I knew what my first full sentence was. I don’t remember and neither do my parents. 

After I started kindergarten, I was diagnosed with learning disabilities. My learning disabilities are in reading comprehension, written expression, and math. It takes me time to understand what I’m reading, and sometimes I need clarification from other people. As I am reading a book, I take my time to comprehend what I am reading. I also have my phone nearby so I can look up definitions of words I do not know. With my written expression, it takes me time to come up with the right words to form sentences. With my math disability, I need lots of support to understand math concepts, especially algebra.

Lauren Clouser:

So could you tell us a little bit about what your school experience was like?

Katie Selby:

When I was in elementary and middle school, when I didn’t understand the assignments, I typically waited for my teachers to notice my facial expressions. I was afraid to ask for help. I didn’t believe that asking for clarification would help me. I didn’t really learn self advocacy skills until I was in high school. That was when I learned to ask for clarification, if I didn’t understand an assignment or test question. During my junior year of high school, I was in 3 classes within classes, which means that I had a general education teacher as well as a special education teacher in the same class. The 2 teachers co-taught to support students. 

In those classes, I learned how to be an advocate for myself. I also had a great rapport with a speech and language teacher who helped me learn the skills I needed to speak up for myself. She taught me to ask my general education teacher for clarification first instead of always waiting and going to her with my questions. So I learned to first go to the general education teacher. And if I still didn’t understand, only then I would go to my special education teacher. 

In my junior year of high school, I was in a resource room study hall to get support with my classes. I was in that study hall for a few weeks. I then realized I was not receiving the support I needed. I felt like the speech and language teacher who taught 2 of my classes understood my way of learning and knew how to explain my high school courses and assignments to me in a way that I could understand them. She knew my learning style well, and she taught me how to utilize it to complete my assignments and study for tests. I felt that I would do better in her study hall. So for the first time, I spoke up and advocated for myself. I asked to be switched to the study hall class that was best for me. 

I maintained the advocacy skills I learned during my junior year of high school and I continued to use those skills to get me through my senior year. When I didn’t understand something, I asked my general education teachers more questions. I also utilized my advocacy skills when I was in the process of transitioning from high school to college. I spoke up for myself when meeting with the disability service office to make sure that I would receive the accommodations I needed.

Lauren Clouser:

That’s great. Well, and it sounds like that self advocacy was able to open a lot of doors for you, and it’s really fortunate to have that connection with your teacher.

Katie Selby:

Yes. And I don’t know where I would be without her today.

Lauren Clouser:

Yeah. That’s fantastic. All it takes is one person. So could you tell us a little bit about the social emotional journey that you went through while you were experiencing some difficulties in the classroom?

Katie Selby:

In preschool, I didn’t have any friends since I was nonverbal. I didn’t play with the other kids. The only friends I had were my Cabbage Patch Doll, Feirani, my brother, Alan, and my cousins. I didn’t make friends until I started to verbally communicate. I made my first friend in kindergarten, and we are still friends today. Since I grew up in the special education system, all of my friends are people with disabilities. I was mainly around that population, so it was easier for me to connect with peers. 

I like to tell people that my friends and I are friends like everyone else. We are friends because we understand each other and support each other. Since none of my siblings or others in my immediate family are people with disabilities, I felt that I was different, and I wish that I could have completed my homework independently like my siblings did. When I hung out with my friends, though, because we learned academic skills in the same way, we had a connection. I finally felt like I wasn’t different. 

In my special education classes, I felt that I was looked over a lot because I was the quiet girl who would always do what the teachers said. I know now that being overlooked did not help me learn the self advocacy skills I needed to be successful in school.

Lauren Clouser:

Well you’re the ‘College Material Girl,’ and that’s largely because a lot of people told you that you weren’t college material, that you shouldn’t go to college. So when did you start getting those messages? And what sort of effect did it have on you?

Katie Selby:

During my transitioning years of high school, I had a high school guidance counselor tell me that I should get a job as a childcare worker instead of going to college. Also, after I received my associate’s degree, my parents told me that maybe more college wasn’t for me. My mom told me that in the career field I was planning to go into I would have to be able to read body language. And because of my disability, I wouldn’t be able to read facial expressions. I had a vocational rehab counselor tell me that maybe I should just look for a job instead. I also had some professors who I could tell did not believe in me or that I could complete college classes.

Lauren Clouser:

That’s really unfortunate. But, again, you are here today because you didn’t listen to that. So what made you decide to go to college or for further schooling, further college?

Katie Selby:

When people told me that college was not a good idea, I was discouraged at first. I thought, why would someone tell me that? I just wanted to be like my siblings and see if I could accomplish what they did. After people advised me not to go to college because I couldn’t handle the academics, I thought to myself that I should at least try college and see what I could handle. If I found I couldn’t get through the classes, I could then just look for a job instead. Throughout my educational career, I have had the drive to try everything. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to see what I can accomplish. After getting my bachelor of science degree, it felt amazing. I was like, Look what I just did. I completed college. I proved everyone wrong.

Lauren Clouser:

Absolutely. Well, and now you work as a para educator with students with disabilities. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with that?

Katie Selby:

Because I am a person with a disability who didn’t get the support I needed to realize my dreams, I decided to support individuals with disabilities in the school setting. In my work as a para educator, I support my students with their goals and help them become as independent as they can be. I encourage them to utilize the support of their friends and family and develop relationships with people who understand them.

Lauren Clouser:

That’s great. It sounds like your own life experience has sort of shaped how you approach it. You’re able to understand a lot of your students better.

Katie Selby:

Yes. My life experiences have had a huge impact on how I approach teaching my students as a para educator. I make sure my students have a voice. I encourage them to speak up for themselves. When my students are in younger grades, I begin the work of instilling how important it is for them to learn self advocacy skills. I do that because I didn’t didn’t get the opportunity to learn those skills when I was their age.

Lauren Clouser:

But, the writing that you do and the advocacy work that you do, why was it important for you to share your story and to get it out there?

Katie Selby:

I started to share my story with The Mighty. It’s a blog site for people with disabilities. They had a blog post asking people to write about their college experiences for new incoming students with disabilities who are looking at going into college. So I shared that story, and then I shared it with many other social media pages. And I’m doing all this advocacy work because I feel it’s important for children to learn the self advocacy skills at a young age because I never received that until I was a junior in high school.

Lauren Clouser:

Right. The earlier, the better. Well, that’s fantastic. So I just have one more question for you, and that is, do you have any advice about resilience or perseverance that you’d like to share with individuals with LD?

Katie Selby:

I would tell them this. If anyone that tells you that you shouldn’t go to college or find the career you want, don’t give up. Find a way to persevere. Find the people who will help you. Find the support system you need to build your confidence and be successful so you can reach your dreams as well.

Lauren Clouser:

Thank you, Katie. I think that’s great advice. Alright, well, thank you so much for talking with us today, Katie. We really appreciate having you on the show, and thank you for your advocacy.

Katie Selby:

You’re welcome.

Lauren Clouser:

Thank you for listening to the LDA podcast. To learn more about LDA. and to get valuable resources and support. visit

Meet Our Members: Meet Kari Fotis!

Tell us about yourself!

I am the owner and Director of the Hampton Roads Dyslexia Center (HRDC) in Newport News, VA. I opened the center in 2020 after nearly 20 years of teaching and tutoring as a Special Education teacher in York County, VA. HRDC provides testing and evidenced based interventions for students with dyslexia and dysgraphia. I also serve as a consultant with the Virginia Center for Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities (VCARDD), testing for dyslexia, dysgraphia, and autism spectrum disorders. Additionally, we offer assistance with special education advocacy and professional development.  

For my formal education, I graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Education degree in Special Education Curriculum and Instruction from the College of William and Mary. I am a Wilson Language Dyslexia Therapist and a certified Structured Literacy Dyslexia Specialist with the Center for Effective Reading Interventions (CERI) a subsidiary of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).   

In addition to testing and teaching, my staff and I contribute to the community and fellow educators through speaking engagements on the science of reading at the local, state, and national level, most recently at the Virginia State Literacy Association (VSLA) Conference and as a featured speaker at the Tutoring Success Academy Summit.  I also serve as a guest lecturer at Christopher Newport University and for The College of William and Mary’s Law School students with the PELE Advocacy Clinic.    

Why did you become a member of LDA?

I joined LDA because I believe in maintaining professional memberships to keep up with the most current research and best practices for ourselves as educators and our students. Membership is also a great way to network and get to know our colleagues and their work. I appreciate the webinars and discounts to great conferences. In addition to my membership with LDA, I am also a member of the IDA,  CERI, and the Council for Exceptional Children.  

What’s a fun fact about you?

While I absolutely love my work, my greatest joy is my family. I’ve been happily married to my high school sweetheart for the past 34 years and we’ve raised three beautiful children who give us immeasurable pride and happiness. Fun Fact: prior to teaching, I used to do singing telegrams! 

Beyond Books: Resources and Community at Your Local Library

Heard on The LDA Podcast

We talk to Carrie Banks, a supervising librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library, about the Inclusive Services Program, community-building opportunities at the library, and their universal design for learning approach. Carrie, who was once told they couldn’t become a librarian because of their dyslexia and dysgraphia, shares how they’re working to make sure the library is a place that kids with LD can find success. 

Read the Transcript:

Lauren Clouser, Host

Welcome to the LDA podcast. a series by the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of intro to educators, individuals of learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the LDA podcast. I’m here today with Carrie Banks. She’s a supervising librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library. Carrie, thank you so much for being here with us. Thank you for having me. So could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Carrie Banks, Host

Sure. I grew up in Pittsburgh where you’re based, and, When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, which explains so much of my life. It was a real relief. But it was a very long time ago, and it was unusual, and people really didn’t know what to do with it from there going forward. And I don’t know why, but I’ve had all kinds of… I grew up with family members with disabilities. And it was just sort of always a part of my life. There’s a saying in the disability community: disability is natural, and that was certainly how I grew up.

But, when I went to library school, I became a children’s librarian because it sort of pulled together all of the interests in different aspects of my life. And then, I worked as a librarian for a while, and then I found this little tiny program in Brooklyn, which I was at the time with the New York Public Library, called the Child’s Place for Special Needs. And it was basically a preschool program for children with disabilities. And, I fell in love with the program. And when the job opened up, I applied for it, and went into the interview with a newspaper article about some of the work I’ve done on Staten Island, including starting a deaf story hour and bringing national theater for the deaf to Staten Island, and some other things. And, I said, well, this is my job. So here’s why. That was my interview. and I’ve been here ever since, and that was in 1997, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s fantastic. So could you tell us a little bit more about the Inclusive Services Program that’s going on at the Brooklyn Public Library?

Carrie Banks

Yes. Brooklyn Public Library. We have 3 of them in New York City. Well, we have 3 library systems in New York City. Brooklyn Public Library has over sixty locations in Brooklyn.

Lauren Clouser, Host


Carrie Banks:

So that little small program, Child’s Place for Children with Special Needs is now Inclusive Services. We have a sort of center at one of our branches and now 5 satellite sites. And we do inclusive programming. So all of our programs are designed to meet the needs of children and youth with disabilities, but they are all open to children with a regard to disabilities. We use disabilities very consciously. Too many of the euphemisms go in and out of favor. They’re sometimes…many of the ones I grew up with or even used early in my career are now offensive, like special needs.

And I find in talking to adults with disabilities that that’s what they use. That’s what they want to use. So we go with disabilities. So the programs are designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities, but it’s open to everybody. For so many reasons, but it kind of goes like this.

We have a program called Read and Play, and that’s for babies. For birth to age five. And I sell it to funders sometimes as a job readiness program. The thing is I got my first job because my best friend’s mother’s cousin was opening up a frozen yogurt store, and she needed somebody to work at that yogurt store. And she knew I was looking for a job, so she connected us, right? So it was through those friendships and neighborhood that I got my first job. Kids with disabilities, particularly in a large city like New York, don’t always have the opportunity to make those connections. They tend to go, you know, they go to their specialized school. They go to special services. They go to after-school therapies. And at that point, everybody’s exhausted.

So we need…I wanted to create, and we have created, neighborhood programs where kids can just come together and be kids together and get to know each other. And that leads to those sort of connections, with the community as opposed to the isolation that’s sometimes seen. So that’s why it’s a job program for five-year-olds. And we do programs for children and youth from birth up to age twenty-two when they age out of the school system. And then we have some things for those young adults too, all along that same model.

From those early story time programs to makerspace programs, which I think are really, really important, particularly for people like me with learning disabilities who sometimes are hands-on learners, so we wanna provide that opportunity. We’ve done sewing programs, We did dissection programs. We dissected squids and we had a virtual option for kids who had issues with fine and gross motor skills so that they could do it on their iPads and and like that. So we do the makerspace programs. We do adaptive gaming programs. We’ve done sensory-friendly movie nights. We do sensory-friendly concerts, 4 or 5 times a year. We work with schools, self contained classrooms, as well as inclusive classrooms, but really mostly the self contained classrooms because they don’t have the same opportunities, again, in the community that some of those inclusive classrooms have.

And we have internship programs for young adults with their disabilities. We’ve had lots of interns with learning disabilities, we’ve had lots of interns with ADHD and also autistic interns, interns who use wheelchairs, and these are, again, young adults who are building up their resumes in the way that, typically developing young adults, it sort of comes naturally. But there aren’t nearly as many options for young adults with disabilities like that.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

I really like how it starts with a community that a lot of times individuals with disabilities don’t necessarily have the opportunity…

Carrie Banks:

That’s what’s important to all, you know, that’s in the long run, that’s what gives us joy and pleasure in life. Having friends is the strongest predictor of longevity. And if you’re not doing that when you’re young, it’s harder to do as adults.

Lauren Clouser:

Definitely. Well, and has your experience with dyslexia and dysgraphia impacted the way that you approach the Inclusive Services program?

Carrie Banks:

Absolutely. Yeah. From day 1, I was in library school, I didn’t want to take 2 cataloging classes that were required at the time. Now you only have to take 1. I didn’t want to take the 2 of them at the same time because I knew they were going to be difficult for me. And I went to the head of the department, the head of the department was out that week. And the person who had to sign off on my course selection was the assistant or interim head, and I told her, and she said, ‘Well, you can’t. You have to take those 2 in the same semester.’

And I said, Well, this is why. And she said, Oh, well, you just can’t be a librarian because you can’t have learning disabilities and be a librarian. Anyway, I had to make a big stink. This was before the Americans With Disabilities Act was fully being enforced. It was in the late eighties. So, you know, I had to make a big stink and whatever else, and of course I graduated. And, I did pretty well. I got, like, 4th or 3rd in my class, so I sent her my transcripts, and I have never, never donated to that school because of that.

But what that did in that very early stage was show me not only the stereotypes and the bias, which I knew was out there, but also the fact that at every level, people saw libraries and people with learning disabilities are just polar opposites. So now I’m proud to go around and say, I’m probably the only librarian you know that will admit to not reading or writing well. And I only mostly read audiobooks, and since I came here, I’ve made sure that audiobooks are available for use here, as well as things like large print books, which are not traditionally considered for the young, but you know, for those teens with learning disabilities, sometimes it works well for them.

We were the first department to really have graphic novels in a big way and graphic formats. And that was for the same reason. This visual supports can be useful to some people with dyslexia. So it’s really informed almost everything I’ve done here, not consciously, though, not like I think about, oh, what would work for me? Because we’re also here looking at all types of disabilities. So, yeah, it informs just about everything I did.

I’m really good at working a crowd in a way that sometimes librarians aren’t. And I’d always think back to, you know, being the class clown in school, And the sort of research out there about people with learning disabilities, that’s a way to compensate. That’s a skill that we develop because we struggle with the other ones. I mentioned I’m an audiobook reader. I’m a ferocious reader, and I always have been. I’m also a writer. I have 3 published books, lots of articles, and I’m working on my 4th book right now. So I’m the writer who can’t write and the reader who can’t read.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

Right, that’s awesome. Just it goes to show. You know, there’s not necessarily limits.

Carrie Banks:

There aren’t. but there are supports in the community and supports from schools and I’m technology dependent.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

Yeah. Well and to talk a little bit more about those supports, what are some of those services that public libraries can offer that can be helpful to somebody with a learning disability?

Carrie Banks:

I think the first thing is it’s not a service. It’s a way of looking at everything that we do, and we need to be looking through universal design and a universal design for learning lens. We have, traditionally, like the rest of the world, designed our programs for the 60% of people who sort of function typically in the way that we expect them to function. Whatever that means. And the other 40% are left out.

The statistics vary, but between 12-21% of people have a learning disability. For children with all types of disabilities, we think 1 in 5, and over the lifetime we know it’ll be 1 in 4 people. So what does it mean to not design for those people?

It means that we’re losing out on a huge audience. We’re losing out on political support. We’re losing out on monetary support, but mostly we’re just discriminating against a huge swath of people. So we need to be thinking more about that as a profession, and looking at things like universal design and universal design for learning. So we’re doing a book discussion. Libraries do more than book discussions, but, you know, people often come back to us, ‘we’re doing a book discussion.’ Well the book that we’re offering for discussion, how many formats is it available in? Is it available in audio? Is there a graphic version of it with the original text? Is there a braille version? Is there a large print book version? Those are all really important things. Is the ebook compatible with screen reading technology?

And here at the library for many years we’ve looked at our summer reading list that way. And not all of them meet all those criteria, but we make sure that we say, okay, we know that these, these, and these books are available in these other formats so that we’re not just limiting our use to the print format. Which is critical. And then in the format of our book discussion, are we all sitting around and only talking to each other? Are we letting people express themselves by drawing with pictures, by signing, or by writing or typing? However it works for them. We’re making sure that we’re including communicators of all types.

So taking that, again, universal design for learning, you’re gonna get tired of hearing me say that, approach it with all of our programs. And are they sensory friendly? I hope that you can’t hear this, but there is an air conditioner going in the background here. And it’s kind of quiet for an air conditioner, but every once in a while it catches my attention. But I know some of the kids I work with, if they were here and they heard that, that’s all they would hear. So making sure that we’re offering sensory tools in our libraries, like, we have here what we call sensory zone kits, and they have things like noise canceling headphones and fidgets…and loosely based on my, woah, basket of fidgets on my desk.

And there’s baseball caps that will block the overhead glare, whatever fidgets work for people. My favorite fidgets are universal fidgets, pipe cleaners, because they work for just about everybody. And if they don’t work for them the way they are, they’ll make them into something that works. And they’re cheap. So yeah, are we meeting those sensory needs? Are we making sure that we’re offering things, in multiple ways, multiple formats? And then are we integrating that into the services that we’re putting out there? And I think that’s important too because sometimes libraries have gotten much better at outreach, but sometimes we talk about outreach and we talk about what the libraries are doing, but how often are we also asking the questions: what do you want? What are we not doing? What do you want us to be doing? And that’s the critical question for me, or for any librarian at any library.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

No. I like how it filters into everything, not just a separate program that focuses on disability. It infiltrates every part of the library and makes everything inclusive. Just to follow-up, if somebody wanted, if a library wanted to make a new inclusivity program, similar to the Inclusive Services Program, what does that take? What sort of planning, what sort of resources?

Carrie Banks: 

It takes training and research. There’s lots of it available. Syracuse University has something called Project Enable where they offer free online training on inclusive library services, essentially, for all types of libraries, and it’s really good. And so even if you’re doing this on a shoestring budget or less, starting some place like that. And there are more and more books on the subject, including mine. And The American Library Association has some resources and some interest groups that work around these issues.

So the first and least expensive is to reach out to the free places like Project Enable and the American Library Association, but then it’s also working with groups like the Learning Disability Association and Down Syndrome Association, Autistic of Advocacy Network. But looking at what other organizations are doing and how we can incorporate their best practices going to their trainings. I send new staff here at Inclusive Services to Adapt Community Network, and that used to be United Cerebral Palsy training. So I sent them to Spinal Cord Inc trainings. I send them to DOE, Department of Education Training. I send them to every place I can that they’re going to learn about people with disabilities and what their needs are, and to be able to engage in those conversations about having library services.

So it takes the research and again, back to the community. They’re reaching out to the community and the disability networks and relationships with community members. That being said, we always focus on the individuals themselves. So sometimes a parent will come in to me and say, oh, my child wants this. And I’m like, okay. That’s nice. Where’s the child? I need to talk to that individual to see what they want. I need to ask them what was the last book you read and liked, because then I know what they’re comfortable reading, rather than, oh, he’s in 3rd grade and reads at a 3rd grade R level. That’s not helpful. And, plus, if he does have a learning disability, he’s probably not reading at that 3rd grade R level. That’s where you want it to be.

So from the time that they’re children…and with children that means not talking about the child in front of the child too. Parents, adults, teachers, we tend to do that way too much. And we don’t like it when people do it to us, and kids don’t like it when we do it to them. So starting with the children, but then as adults, again, what do they want? You know, and centering that experience. That’s how we’re going to learn. That’s how we’re going to develop strategies and programs and services that are going to work for them, work for everything.

But you asked about my experiences, and one of my really early experiences in libraries, not really early, but a few years in, that really made an impression on me was I was a branch librarian of the smallest branch in the New York Public Library System before I came here. And it was a storefront branch, and I was there one day, and a boy comes in and he asks for a 3rd grade book. He has to do a book report on it tomorrow. Okay. Well, that’s alright.

So I go through all my 3rd grade books that I found at the time boys tended to like. Didn’t want any of those. Went through all the 3rd grade books that I found at the time that girls tended to like. He didn’t want any of those. This was a very long time ago. And we’re going through things, and I’m getting frustrated. He’s getting frustrated. He just stopped and looked at me, and he says, it’s okay. It’s not your fault. I’m dumb. I have learning disabilities, and I’m dumb.

And I said to him, you know what? I have learning disabilities, and I’m not dumb. And I bet you’re not either. We just need to find the right book. So then I expanded my search. I’d been very linear in 3rd grade but then I expanded my search to things that might be more visual, things that were really on a 2nd grade level, things like that. And I gave him a whole range of books, and he took some, and he went home.

Then he came back 5 minutes before closing. And he was doing that thing, you know how kids, they pull on their parents’ sleeve to lead them places. He’s tugging on his mother, bringing her into the library. He said, her. She’s the one. She has learning disabilities, and she’s not stupid.

And it just broke my heart that message that this child was getting, that he was stupid, wherever that was coming from. They knew that he had a learning disability. He’d been diagnosed. And he clearly wasn’t getting the support because he was still ‘dumb.’ But that really made me see how we could make a difference. and one of the things that we do is to make sure we’re providing opportunities for kids to have success.

So we do a fair amount of arts programming. We do a lot of visual art, a fine arts program, arts and crafts, sculptures, drawing, puppet-making, gardening, Again, those hands-on activities that are going to give success to our kids who don’t necessarily have it in other venues.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

So how can organizations like LDA be a partner to libraries, whether it’s through spreading information about their services or everything that they offer, what can we be doing?

Carrie Banks:

Going to the library and talking to the librarians, the library staff, adult services, children’s services, let them know that you’re out there, what services you offer, and look for those places where you overlap for where you can connect. And, of course, yes, please do offer to share our information out there because we need that. And it’s hard to reach communities sometimes.

But, yeah, just that personal connection, I’m a big believer in that’s what makes things work. I’d rather meet someone in person than get a notification from LinkedIn. And then, this is who we are. This is what we do. We can do this with you. We can offer a workshop on learning disabilities for your families, we could host one of our meetings here and you could tell them about the library and what services you have. We have these wonderful services and resources, take a look.

And where you do have free materials, share them with the libraries or offer to share them with the libraries because sometimes we can’t can’t always use everything, but, yeah. And then invite us where you are, to your meetings, even if they’re not happening at the library, they’re happening off-site, it’s virtual, invite us, invite us to your conferences. It’s good. I love the conferences, especially if there’s a swimming pool involved. So that’s, again, it’s just making those connections and seeing what both sides need and finding that synergy.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

Definitely. Well, Brooklyn Public Library is an LDA member, could you tell us a little bit about how you utilize that membership?

Carrie Banks:

All those things I just said. I look at the resources. I refer people often to LDA. New York City no longer has a local chapter. We haven’t had one for quite some time now. And our state chapter is very busy upstate. So I’m often referring people directly to LDA National for resources and support. So, you know, the websites and the help lines that you’ve had in the past. So, yeah, that’s one way we use it. And I know I could do that without being a member, but it helps me keep up on what’s going on, and sort of the research in the field sometimes.

And just knowing what resources are out there I think it’s really, really important. And as librarians that’s our job. So that’s mostly how we use it, again. But we share information about events. We only share information about events that have sliding scales or are free so we don’t do as much of that as I’d like to, but we do just some of it.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

No, that sounds good, we appreciate that. So just one more question to wrap up, either what do you wish that more people knew about libraries, or is there something maybe that I didn’t ask that you wanted to include and talk about?

Carrie Banks:

The thing that I wish people knew about libraries is we’re not all about books. We’re about communities, and connecting to stories, life skills. Brooklyn Public Library, for example, offers English language learning. We offer conversation groups in other languages. We offer job support and job training, job searches. We do some job training. We have a partnership with Bard College where you can get an associate degree for free.

We have reentry services for people who are coming out of carceral situations and back into society. We have a tele-visiting program where children can visit with their incarcerated parents through a video chat and read and share books together, and maintain those connections. We have services for new immigrants. We have legal services. We have programs for people who are unhoused.

We have a cycle project, which introduces information to the community about menstruation, and we have a shelf at a couple of our libraries now, but mostly at our central library, that has free period products, for children who can’t afford the price, or for non-binary users that don’t want to go to the drugstore and pick up a product that looks like it’s not appropriate for them.

So, we just do so much more than you would ever imagine. And yeah, we do story times and we circulate books and movies, in-person and online and, Thomas the Tank came to the library. I met Thomas the Tank in person. So, you know, when you think about libraries, please think about more than books. So we do everything but lunch. And over the summer, some of our libraries even do lunch by partnering with our schools and offering school lunches at libraries.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

That’s fantastic. Yeah. Like you said, it’s very community based. It’s very much about what individual people need and you’re there to fill that need.

Carrie Banks:

Yeah. And first we have to know about it so come and tell us.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

Yeah. That’s a great place to start. Carrie. Thank you so much for being on the show with us, and thank you so much for talking about how important public libraries are and how they can be resources to individuals with LD.

Carrie Banks:

Thank you for asking, Lauren. I really appreciate it.

Lauren Clouser, Host:

Thank you for listening to the LDA podcast. To learn more about LDA and to get valuable resources and support, visit

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