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: https://facpub.stjohns.edu/~ortizs/CLIM

Multitiered System of Supports for English Learners (mtss4els.org)

Colorín Colorado on special education and ELs: http://www.colorincolorado.org/special-education-and-ells-event-archive

Should we evaluate students in their home language when possible? https://youtu.be/mIEwRsRbYGM

Questions of Culture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLMb6mqDEdo&list=PLoU659hwTdDbmPLXRBcDXZK7qU BEvo4ya&index=7

Full playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLoU659hwTdDbmPLXRBcDXZK7qUBEvo4ya

Self-Assessment Checklist on Cultural Competency: http://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/diversity/cultural-competence/selfassessment-checklist

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 ldaamerica.org.

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

Gotcha.

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 ldaamerica.org.

Join our Free Webinar:
Getting to Know IES and its Resources for Educators

Join us on August 8th, 12pm ET, for a free webinar from the Institute of Education Sciences.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the nation’s leading source of rigorous education research, evaluation, and statistics. IES’ mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.

This presentation will illustrate how the four centers of IES are working to provide educators with the research and tools necessary to improve education outcomes for learners. It will also dive into the available resources that the IES website provides including data, best practices, programs, and funding opportunities. Dr. Sarah Brasiel, Education Research Analyst at the National Center for Special Education Research will be presenting and sharing key resources from IES.

This webinar is free to attend live. LDA members can watch the recording at any time in our Members Only Webinar Archive, which has nearly 40 hours of educational content! Learn more and become a member today.

Meet our Members: Meet Ajit Moorkoth!

A bit about Ajit: 

Ajit Moorkoth is a Consultant Rehabilitation Practitioner, Clinical Special Educator, and Psychologist, with training from India and Australia.  

He has 32 years of professional experience with interests in neurodevelopmental disorders and early  intervention services for high-risk / at-risk neonates and infants. 

Ajit’s key interests and skills include educational diagnostics, personnel preparation in rehabilitation sciences and special education, school reform practices, early intervention services, and educational  neurosciences. 

In recognition of his achievements in the field of disability rehabilitation and special education, Ajit  has received numerous awards and recognitions to his credit.  

Ajit is currently the Director and Chief Consultant of the SEED Center for Special Education and the  Corporate Director of Inclusion, NIMS Group of Schools in UAE. He is also the Managing Trustee of  Vigyan Valley in Cochin which provides assessment, intervention, and intervention services to children with neurodevelopmental disorders. 

Ajit was also the Autism Program Head of Dubai Autism  Center from 2018 to 2020. Prior to his arrival in UAE, he had been Assistant Professor of Special Education Teaching B.Ed. and M.Ed. courses in Special Education in KVM College of Special Education, which is affiliated with the University of Kerala. 

Some fun facts about Ajit: 

Ajit is an avid reader, an aviation enthusiast, and an actor who was recently in Kumbalangi Nights, where he played a clinical psychologist. He’s also a foodie who loves cooking for his family and friends. 

Why Ajit joined LDA: 

Ajit firmly believes that it is a professional’s responsibility to stay updated about the developments that happen in their professional field the world over. Joining LDA is an excellent way to stay up to date,  no matter which corner of the world you are in and working.

Learn more about the benefits of an LDA membership, and join today!

The Power of Kindness: A Talk with Artist Mark Stoddart

Heard on The LDA Podcast

Mark Stoddart, a renowned Scottish sculptor with dyslexia, has dedicated 30 years to creating captivating bronze sculptures. Many of these pieces serve a dual purpose of raising awareness and generating funds for important causes, particularly for neurodiverse education. In this episode, Mark shares his own difficult experience with school, his philanthropic work, and the importance of kindness. 

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 interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents, and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

Hi, everyone. This is Monica McHale Small and I am the director of education for the Learning Disabilities Association of America. And I have the great privilege of being with Mr. Mark Stoddart today. Mark is an artist, philanthropist, and a dyslexic and neurodiverse individual. He’s coming to us today from Scotland. And I had the great pleasure of meeting Mark when I was in Oxford, when we were both in Oxford for the World Literacy Summit. Mark’s story is really fascinating, and I thought that all of you would appreciate hearing a little bit more about Mark Stoddart. Hi, Mark. How are you doing?

Mark Stoddart:

Fine, thank you very much. And thank you for asking me to talk.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small

Well, thank you for saying yes. So I wanted to start with because this is what really fascinated me when I got to meet you. Tell us a little bit about your work, both your work as an artist and the philanthropy that you’re doing in the education world.

Mark Stoddart:

For 30-odd years, I’ve been doing bronze sculptures and also just recently started to do sculptures in silver and also sculptures done in 100% pure Scottish gold. Over the 30 -odd years of doing the sculptures, I’ve tried to give back to numerous charities around the world. From my sculptures, I would donate a piece to help raise awareness and also to help raise funds for different charities. The amount of pieces that I’ve done over the years is quite…well, it surprises me that there is no part of the world that somebody has not collected one of my sculptures. 

And last year I was out in the Philippines, and a gentleman, a Scotsman, said, what about the Antarctic? Oh, dear. And I paused for a minute and I thought, oh, dear, somebody might have got me there. And then I thought yes and no. And he’s like, It can’t be a yes, and it can’t be a no. It has to be one or the other. I said, well, it’s not, actually, because there was a ship built in Norway that sailed for the first time round to Southampton. I had to meet the ship at Southampton, and I did a sculpture that went on the ship. The ship is like people’s, huge, big Manhattan apartments, and the ship sails around the world constantly, and the people get on and off the ship and jump on and off to their apartments and quite often on various houses around the world as well. Very fortunate. And the ship had been in the Antarctic. That is somebody’s actual home. So I thought, yes, it has been. And I have supplied to somebody’s home that was in the Antarctic when the ship was and he’s like, that okay. You got me.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

Okay. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I don’t think many artists can have that claim to fame.

Mark Stoddart:

No, I mean, it’s amazing. I did a piece for the man that walked on the moon, I’ve done a piece for Sir Elton John, I’ve done a piece for the King of Saudi Arabia, and the list just goes on and on. So, yes, it’s an extremely fortunate position to find myself in. And through doing all that, I’ve tried to give back to different charities. One, obviously, that is extremely close to my heart is dyslexia charities. And when I lived down in London, I used to help the British Dyslexia Association. And then when I moved up to Scotland, I became an ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland, and I’ve been for quite a lot of years now and done numerous things to try and help them in different ways. 

But during lockdown, I mentored somebody through Dyslexia Scotland to do his own sculpture. And I funded it to be done in bronze and 100% Scottish gold. And his sculpture was based on David and Goliath, the kind of fight of dyslexia against the bigger element, the establishment. And I also got it all filmed and done, and also we got it revealed at the Scottish Parliament, where I’ve got one of my sculptures within there and did all the media coverage for them and got it into quite a number of newspapers, magazines, and BBC did a piece on it as well. And then I thought, what else can I do? 

Because during lockdown, a lot of people I believed were going to be struggling. And so I paid for quite a number of students, young kids in Indonesia who are dyslexic, and from underprivileged backgrounds, they will earn less than $50 a month, their parents, and bought laptop computers, et cetera. And then I thought, well, what else can I do? So I ended up funding to build the only dyslexic neurodiverse school in Indonesia. And the school is also eco friendly and carbon neutral. The first phase is built and up and running, and we’re building the second phase as we speak. And they’ve got about 135 students at the moment. Some of them are still in their own schools. And the teachers go out, they’re all from underprivileged backgrounds, and the school funds them to go to school and pays for it, and pays for their school uniforms and pays for their school books and for them to be taught. 

There is a zoo in America, in Cincinnati, and it had a very special piece. And I thought, what can I do with the piece? And the zoo has a hippo called Fiona the Hippo. So I contacted them and I did a raffle with the zoo for this special sculpture that I have. And we raised about 90,000 with the piece and a small percentage went out to Africa to help build the foundations of the school. There. Again, the only dyslexic neurodiverse school in Kenya. So that kind of got itself up and running and I ended up financing to build the whole first phase of the school personally. 

And when I went out in November there, the school organization had been going for ten years, but had zero recognition from the Kenyan government or the education department. And I managed to make contact with them. And one of the education people came along, they loved what they were doing, but sadly condemned the school that they were in. And they said that the classrooms were far too small, the windows too small, doorways too small, the way down to it was not disabled access friendly in any way or anyhow, and the places that they were sleeping in was not fit and where they cooked was not suitable. And if you moved the stones away where the kids played in the middle of the area, it hadn’t rained for two years, but it was soaking wet and it was only coming from one place and that was a septic tank. And so there was a good chance the kids would sadly end up with diseases that could be unimaginable. So they basically condemned it. It was the end of November and that was the kids just that day actually going off on their summer break. 

So he says, well, Mark’s actually funding to build a school and we started it January, do you want to come and see the new place and where it’s get done? So the Education Ministry came over to look at it whilst I was there and they were like that, wow, this is something else again. And it’s only Mark that’s funding this. Yes. Okay. The school comes back on the 25th of January. It wasn’t me that picked the date, but it happened to be Rabbie Burns Day, the Scottish poet. And that’s when the school was opening up again and she turned around and said to Nancy, that runs the school, could you get the school, the first phase finished by then? So, of course they both turned around and looked at me. In other words, could you finance it? So, absolutely astonishing. 

The contractors that were building the school, as I said, had been building since January. This was the end of November. There’s still a lot to do. They worked every single day up till the 25th of January and took one day off Christmas Day and that was it. They worked flat out. So I turned around and said, one, the school had to be finished and done. But not only that, I think you should have a grand opening day when everybody comes back. And they were like, you’re kidding. And I says yes. And they says, Well, I’ve got the money. I says, I’ll pay for the grand opening because you need to celebrate what you’ve achieved. And a pat on the back, have your friends, your relatives come along because you’re just not going to do it further down the line. It’s not going to happen. We could do it. You’re not going to do it. So they did, and they walked from the old school with their possessions to the new school and then had a big opening. 

I managed to get somebody from the ministry to come along of education and do the grand opening. There was a mix up with my visa, so sadly, I didn’t make it out for that occasion. But they read out my speech and they did a grand opening. And I had designed a plaque to go on the wall and they did that. They put a paper version of it on the wall and planted a tree. And the person in the ministry did it all on my behalf. I mean, fantastic job they did. The school very much focuses on the arts. Both schools do. But they also very much focus on trying to give the children an ability to be able to live a happy, normal life and will teach them. The school in Kenya teaches them how to make their own clothes. There’s a farmer there with a bit of ground, shows them how to grow their own crops, and there show various forms of art they’re showing how to do. 

But if somebody turned around and said, okay, you’ve given us the hardware, but you also have gone and given us the software because I funded Kate Kate McElderry from the Odyssey School in Maryland to do three zoom calls with the teachers before she flew out to the school in Kenya and did a training course and then do two follow up zoom calls. One was in July and the next one’s going to be in August. But rather than take a training course from the UK or a training course from America and just shoehorn that in, Kate and myself decided to try and tailor make it so people in Africa could identify with it and associate with it. So we introduced the big five animals and we introduced zebra stripes and introduced patterns from, say, materials and patterns from giraffes, et cetera, so they would associate with it. I’m conscious that the school is important and what Nancy and Phyllis that run the school do is important, but that doesn’t touch necessarily the rest of Kenya.

 So some of the teachers from schools in very remote parts of Africa, I funded some of them to come to the school and get taught by Kate, and somebody from Botswana came from other parts of Africa, came and sat in in the training course. But I also managed to get three of the education directors from the Kenyan government to also come along. And whilst I was out there, I got an appointment to go and see the Education Minister for Kenya to do with disabilities. And I also managed to see their training facilities for all forms of disabilities throughout Kenya and how they teach teachers.

 The school is less to do with dyslexia, but they also have kids that have got cerebral palsy, they’ve got children that also have, say, problems with deafness, mild autistic, et cetera, et cetera. And so they’re all different forms of disabilities they have. And it crisscrosses. The word dyslexia, I think, can be quite a misused word because it crisscrosses over such a spectrum and what the government saw there and has been done, they absolutely love it. And we’re asking, is it possible to create a training manual book of some description and could they introduce that into their teaching and roll that out throughout Kenya? Four teachers that I paid to come along from a very remote part of Kenya, it’s so easy in life that you could go back to your normal way of doing things and just say, yeah, that was interesting, but let’s just stick to what we know. Oh, no, they have not done that. They have done the total and absolute opposite. They managed to get one of the schools that they work in to put a classroom aside, and in the first week, identified about 36 dyslexic children. They’ve identified more since another school nearby has allocated a room, but it needs renovated, it’s quite primitive, and I’ve offered to help pay for that.

 And they’re looking at another school. And just on Friday there, they contacted me to say that the Ministry of Education for Kenya had paid them a visit and they had gone and looked at it, and I said, yes, I knew about it. I requested through somebody in Kenya, Anne, who works for the Worldwide Rotary Club for Disabilities, and she’s been helping me and she worked for the government. She got the government to go along and do it and they, ah, we now understand why they paid us a visit and why they were so interested in what we were doing and insisted that they saw this classroom and the training materials that we’re using that you had given us. And they want us now to go out into the very remote villages and identify dyslexic people and bring them into the classroom and start to teach them and to accelerate what we’re doing. I am absolutely blown away by that, that they could have so easily just gotten about it and just done and got on with our way. They do things normally, the total and absolute opposite. And I just find it astonishing what they’re doing.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

As you’re telling me all of this and going through all this. I think what’s happening, Mark, is that your incredible generosity is really inspiring other people, right? The people who were building…how many, how often does that happen? That a bunch of workers just decide, yeah, we’re not going to stop until it’s done? And I think that’s really reflecting back on you. You are inspiring others to go above and beyond the way that you are going above and beyond. And I started making little check marks on the page, but I lost track of all the people that it seems like you’re touching and then they turn around and spread that generosity, that compassion, that desire to change the world for better. So I think people are now understanding why I was so anxious to have you on this podcast because you’re certainly inspiring me, so I thank you for that. Do you ever sit back and just think about that? How many people you are touching and how many people they are now touching and how much you’ve already changed the world?

Mark Stoddart:

I’ll turn around and say something and people will find it bizarre. It was years and years ago. On an occasion I met Sir Jackie Stewart and I said something to him and he paused and I thought, oh dear, I’m not going to get a good reply to this. And he replied, then I said the same to him. And I said, I spoke to you a few years ago and I said that despite all the things I’ve done for different charities throughout the years, and despite all the different things I’ve done through my art, I’ve been massively privileged to meet a lot of very interesting people through my art. And I did a piece out in South Africa, and it was for Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s charity for kids suffering from HIV. And it had just come about at the time and it was part of the South African government inviting me out. And I’d done a special piece for them to raise money, et cetera. And I said to him, I said, despite everything I’ve done that I don’t feel I’ve ticked the box and I don’t feel as though I’ve accomplished anything. 

And he turned around and said to me, I’m the same. And I found that to be astonishing. And he says, if you sit and think about it, that we both are the same and that is probably why we carry on doing what we do, that we haven’t done it. And if we had, we probably wouldn’t carry on doing what we’ve done. And I thought that’s probably a very wise way of looking at it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m massively privileged and I’m massively grateful for what I’ve achieved and that I am in a position that I can afford to finance personally and build these schools and do what I’m doing. And on the back of it I’m getting asked to do various talks to different places all around Africa. 

And when I was out just last month, I went out with Kate Kate McElderry and we did a book talk and I met a friend in Dublin who he’s built eleven schools through a charity himself and two other people set up in 2006 and it’s eleven schools for underprivileged children in India. And he’s asking, could I please help him? Not my money, but could I help him identify somewhere. I know people in India and Delhi to build a school for dyslexic neurodiverse kids and could I help him in some way identify dyslexic neurodiverse children in these eleven schools? I mean, one of these schools has 1000 kids in them. That’s quite astonishing. So it’s quite mind blowing what’s getting done. 

But as I turn around and say absolutely none of this is about me and when we did the grand opening of the school in Kenya and then did it in the one out in Indonesia, I said it’s not about me, it’s not about people who also running it and setting it up with me that do the day to day running and organizing it. And I said it’s not about the teachers, it is totally and absolutely about the children that we’re all doing this for you and for you to hopefully give you the tools and ability to realize your own personal dreams in life. And that is what it’s all about. It’s not about us.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

Right? I think that’s a great segue into you and talking a little bit about growing up and your experiences in school because I’m guessing that part of what you experienced is part of what drives the work that you’re doing now. Could be wrong, but you shared a little bit with me when we were in Oxford, so maybe tell us a little bit about your experience when you were in school. What happened?

Mark Stoddart:

Sadly, I didn’t…well, the early part of my schooling was not very happy and it was different times back then and this is the same with what’s happening out in Africa, it’s different times. And there was, say when I was about a six, seven year old, I got my sums right. And so the school said, fine, you can have a half day off. And then when I went to the school assembly the next day they said if Mark gets his sums right, the whole school can have a day off. And needless to say, I never got my sums right. I very rarely did. And they decided to make a big white cone and put a D on it and put me in front of the school assembly and then put me in front of the class for a whole day. They thought I was lazy, I was thick, I was stupid and just trying to shock me out of it was the way they went about. 

I didn’t know I was dyslexic or neurodiverse or dyspraxic and so on. And so I got quite heavily bullied, and that’s from the kids, the teachers, the headmistress, and then the other school headmaster and the other school I went to again when I was held back in the classes and there was quite a few things happened to me that should never happen to children. And it was all to do with being dyslexic. And I would always be the last person to be picked to play in football or any eye-ball contact or even gym for coordination. And there was a teacher that I had out with and she would leave me standing for 45 minutes trying to just get the one word and it’d be a double barreled word and I just couldn’t put it together, I just couldn’t get it. 

My parents had a lady that lived a couple of doors down from us and she was a retired headmistress and she used to try and give me some extra lessons, but I still, as I say, struggled and didn’t know I was dyslexic, but the school I was at was a prep school and you leave about 13, 14. And I went down to a school in Wales for an interview and the headmaster there interviewed me and then said to my father, no, your son’s not daft, thick and stupid. This school is totally the wrong school for him. The school could have skimmed across the three R’s to what legally they could get away with, but really looked at car mechanics, farming and swimming and everything else but arithmetic and reading and writing. And I’d got into stamps back then and the chap happened to know about it and said, no, your son knows all about this. And says, no, I actually think he’s dyslexic. So I turned around and said to my father about it, and so my father said to the headmaster of the school that he had been there. And they think, Nah, there’s no such thing. Nah, no, and did nothing. So, in the summer term, my father, through a friend, got a child psychologist to come and test me and says, oh, gosh, no, quite straightforward. Your son’s dyslexic and the school he’s going to is doing massive amounts of damage. You cannot send them back there.

So I never went back, so I never saw any of my friends. And at that point I’d gone into a shell. I wouldn’t go on a bus, I wouldn’t go anywhere, I wouldn’t talk to anybody, I wouldn’t do anything because I thought I was thick, I was stupid, I was daft, and I believed I was a massive embarrassment to the family. And I kept quiet about a lot of things that had happened to me at school and the way I’d been treated. So I was meant to go to a school in Edinburgh, but they had over promised, they didn’t have a space, they had only six dyslexic people there and they weren’t going to take any more. And then my father took ill for two years. I ended up getting left at home and 100% forgotten about whilst my father was ill. And so I just went into gardening and just bottled about myself and my dog and that was it for two years.

And then when my father, amazingly, got better again against all odds, he took me along to the local council and thought there’s maybe a little outside chance he might get a job, been able to cut grass for the council and do something like that. And that would be the maximum he would ever be able to achieve in his life. And my mother says, you can’t do that to the guy. You’ve got to give him a chance in life. And so she reported them to the authorities that I had never been at school, and there were no teachers, and I wasn’t getting taught or anything. So my father put his big effort into it and found a school down in Sussex. And I’d never been away from home or anything, and the school was the first dyslexic school in the world, and the school has been going for way over 100 years. And at the time, the school was the second most expensive school in Britain. 

And I was fortunate to have the parents that I had in some aspects, but in a lot of other aspects, probably not. My father was very successful and very overpowering and just couldn’t really see why I wasn’t doing and wasn’t able to do what I was doing and was an embarrassment, probably. And my mother, yeah, it’s a whole other story. And so I ended up going down there and realizing that that was my only chance in life. And school totally changed my life and the way things were. I had to go back to my times table, my alphabet and everything to scratch. And I had about just slightly over two years at the school until I was just over 18. But one of the biggest things the school gave was self belief and confidence. 

The headmaster was an absolute character. He had been at Eaton, and then just before he retired, he went back to Eaton. And he had no interest in the parents, but he had a huge interest in the well being of his students. And he would give you as much leeway as possible and allowed me to build self belief and confidence and go up to London for the weekend and go down to Hastings and go to things on a Saturday or whatever and do things. And it just allowed me to find myself, and it totally changed my life, basically, by having that opportunity to go somewhere like that.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

That is quite a story. How often do you think about your own experience when you are with the children that you’re helping when you’re working with the schools? Is that something that is always in the back of your mind, trying to find a way for the kids that will go to the schools that you’re involved with to kind of experience what you experienced in those last couple of years?

Mark Stoddart:

If I can put it a different way. I was asked to do a presentation at the end of June there, and it’s an organization called the Sun Books, and they’re the people that organized the World Literacy Summit that we met at. And the CEO of that is actually based in Melbourne in Australia, and it turns out that his ancestors came from Glasgow and owned a ship building company in the Clyde. And they asked me to do a talk and it’s to teachers all round about Africa and some of them were asking me questions at the end and I kind of looked at it and thought they were wanting me to explain about dyslexia. 

And I said, I’m not a teacher, I’m not an education person, so I’m not going to wade into it. I said, yes, you can identify a dyslexic person. They can be somebody very quiet in your classroom. It can be somebody that’s the joker in the classroom, it can be somebody that’s disruptive in the classroom and it can be somebody and they said, well, what about cat and dog and B’s and D’s? I said, yeah, we can go into all that, but I said, I’m not a teacher in education so I won’t do that. But I said the one thing that I can do is turn around and say to you, Be kind. 

I says, I can’t give you the tools to then if you identify and I’m not doing that at this stage, but we’ve got another meeting where we’re bringing a specialist in that’s going to tell them this Friday coming, so we’re doing it again because they’re just so fascinated by it all. But I said, be kind, and I know sadly, how some of them in Africa do treat people like that. And I was like, Well, I can’t wait in and start saying any of this, but I said, Be kind, and they said, yeah, we give them names or whatever. I said, don’t do it. I said, please be kind. 

I said, because if I go back to myself, I said, what I got put through and what happened to me imprinted in my life and it still stays with me for the rest of my life. And I said if I ever hit a little bump in the road, all these voices, all these people that turned around and told me that I was thick, I was stupid, I’ll make nothing in life, I’ll not achieve it in my life. It still comes back and it’ll still haunt me and people say, but that’s not possible with everything you’ve done and everything you’re doing. I said, It still does.

I still at points, it can just suddenly hit me where I get panic attacks and anxiety attacks. And especially if I’m somewhere around the world, it can be in the middle of the night. I could semi-waking up. And my partner usually comes with me because I can be kind of frightened and I shouldn’t be. But my whole life suddenly focuses on a pinhead and I feel terrified and I just feel that I want to go home. I have nothing to go home back to. There’s no rhyme or reason why I should want to go home because there’s nothing there to go back to, go back to. And it all stems from what I was put through. 

And so what I turned around and said to them is, please be kind. And so what I’m doing with the schools and trying to do is give other children an opportunity to realize their own dreams and so on, but more importantly, not hopefully go through what I went through and be put through what I was put through, because it imprints, and it can imprint the rest of your life. And people, possibly just ignorant, don’t realize the way they treat somebody when they’re very young and what they do to them can actually have a massive effect. 

As I turned around and I said to the Kenyan Minister for Education, I said, I have no statistics for the UK. And I’ve no statistics for Kenya or other parts of Africa. But I believe America has done statistics that 75% of prisoners in prison have a very low reading age and I believe can also be dyslexic neurodiverse. And it all spins out from that to where you end up with mental health issues and everything else and so on, that if you just get to a point where somebody lives a happy, normal life and is not a burden in their community and their country, you’ve won.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

Right? Absolutely. Yeah. And I think we forget there’s no better advice, I think, in the world. Just imagine what our world would be if everybody just was kind to everyone else. It would transform the world. But I think, too, what you’re saying is so true that children spend most of their days, most of the hours of the day in school. And that experience is really shaping how they will feel about themselves for the rest of their lives. And they really judge their own self worth in comparison to their peers. And if they’re not right where their peers are, they can be very hard on themselves. So I really appreciate what you’re doing and your advice about being kind. I agree. And I worked in public schools, and that was something whenever I was hiring people, that’s really what I was looking for. Right. You can teach teachers the skills to improve their practice, but you can’t take an unkind person, necessarily and make them kind. So I was always looking for somebody who I felt was going to treat children with respect and kindness, because I think that might be the most important thing.

Mark Stoddart:

Well there’s quite an interesting sorry, if you go back to the word kind, there’s a movement called the Kindness Organization. And last month, I met a gentleman. He’d come over from Bangladesh. He’s a doctor, but he’s stopped practicing to run this organization, and his wife’s a professor. And it’s the kindness movement. And he’s looking and interviewing people for the hundredth most kind people in the last 20th century, and he very kindly interviewed me.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

I would bet that you’re going to be on the list because that is one of the things that really struck me about you. So I do have one more question, actually. I could probably talk to you all day because I’m so inspired by your story and by what you’re doing in the world. But I don’t know if you remember when we were in the pub, which is where we met and in between sessions and we were talking about the idea that what I find is when I speak to adults with learning disabilities is that they’ve often have found the workaround. 

I think a lot of educators think, okay, we teach them to read and write and do arithmetic. Problem solved, right? But when I talk to adults, they have found the workarounds for their areas of weakness, whether it be reading or writing or arithmetic. They find a career path or a job that’s not going to put a lot of demands on where they’re weak or maybe they’re using technology tools to kind of work around. But when they talk about how their learning disability or dyslexia or neurodiversity continues to impact them, they talk about other processing deficits. And you and I spoke about that, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what’s hanging on in your life as an adult as far as your learning disability and how do you see it continuing to affect how you function in the world.

Mark Stoddart:

Big question, to say the least. There’s quite a number of people around the world trying to do things for dyslexia and neurodiverse, people that I think are absolutely fantastic in creating awareness about it, and especially with adults as well. There are some people saying that every dyslexic person has a superpower. Well, that brings its own complications. I mean, even out in the middle of nowhere in Africa, they are getting a backlash from the parents turning around and saying that my child has got a superpower. Why are you not finding the superpower? And you’re like, not everybody has got a superpower. And even if they have, do they want to be the next Henry T. Ford and so on? No, it brings a lot of its own pressures. 

So you kind of learn more and more about dyslexia. And as I say, it’s a misused word. There’s so many different crossovers with it. And I could sit at a dining room table and there’s quite a number of friends, and there’s, say, one person like my partner, and she can be chatting away and I’m talking to somebody next to me that I don’t know. I will only be getting about two words and one word to the person I’m sitting right next to talking to because my brain is pulling in the conversation to somebody that I know. And it’s the same thing. She’ll be on the laptop doing away and I’ll have the phone, the television going, and I say, you’re wasting your time, you might as well talk to the wall. I cannot pick it up. My brain will be tuning into something on the television, picking a word up, you’re saying, then pulling in from there. And I’m not getting it, that what I’ve done is as much as possible, recognize my strengths and more importantly, recognize my weaknesses. 

I play to my strengths and I work out ways to shore up my weaknesses. But Maggie in my office is an absolute lifesaver and she very much shores up all my weaknesses. And believe me, there are plenty and that allows me to function the way I do. I fully understand a lot of adults in various jobs. They will do a job that will take them to a point that means they don’t have to go and face their weaknesses. And more importantly, a lot of people will hide their weaknesses because they worry that it will threaten their job or their job prospects and so on and try to stay away from things like that. 

I had it when I worked for different companies way back when I was engaged, and there was a chap, Gavin Hastings, who was a very good rugby player and he worked for a big insurance company and they offered me the job when he decided he was given the job up. And they said, you’ve got the right image, the right look and presentation, job is yours. And then they say this is very weird, but the chap in charge has asked you to go up to the boardroom and never does, that’s weird. I went up, sat in the office, chatted away to him for a little while, then he got a newspaper, shoved it under my nose and said, I believe you got something called dyslexia. Could you read that sentence there? 

And of course, the worst thing for dyslexic is to be put under pressure. You start just going haywire. And so I kind of stumbled over it and he says, oh no. He says, we couldn’t employ somebody like you. Oh no, we couldn’t have somebody like you working for us. I said, But I’ve been offered the no, no, I’m taking the job. Sorry. No, definitely it impacted my life and ended up not saying just because of that, but ended up I was getting a house built in Walton Thames down in Surrey and we had the church built and everything else and I ended up losing the relationship, broke down and so on. And yeah, it could have impacted on my health. 

So if we can revert back to the word kind that I understand, that people don’t understand and don’t probably kind of relate to it, but don’t put somebody down because of it and don’t do it. If you look at, say, somewhere like NASA, NASA has, what, I think it’s 60% of people who are dyslexic neurodiverse working for them? Why? They see things differently. They look at things differently. And if you can have a dyslexic neurodiverse person working for your company, you can be sitting on a boardroom table and everybody’s sitting, chatting away. They will just go put the finger straight on it. And everybody’s like, how did they see that? They see things differently. They look at things differently. They see it in a different way. They can be a massive, massive help and advantage to a company. So realize what you’ve actually got and it can be a massive thing to have somebody like that working for you.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

Absolutely. And unfortunately, the Learning Disabilities Association is often contacted by young adults out there in the workforce having negative experiences like what you described. And hopefully, as we build awareness and we highlight people like you, Mark, who have achieved at such high levels, maybe people’s perceptions will change and more people will give people who are neurodiverse a chance. So thanks for talking with me today. It’s been really interesting and I can’t wait to talk to you again with your co-author, Kate, who you’ve mentioned several times, hoping that we will get to talk about the book that you and Kate have coming out in October or the end of September. So thank you very much and have a great day.

Mark Stoddart:

It’s been an honor and thank you very much for asking me. And hopefully somebody gets something out of what I’ve been talking about.

Dr. Monica McHale-Small:

I think a lot of people are going to get a lot out of your story. So thank you.

Lauren Clouser:

Thank you for listening to the LDA Podcast. To learn more about LDA and to get value, resources and support, visit ldamerica.org.