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Every Child is a Puzzle

By Erica Ehm

“Your child has learning disabilities”

I felt as if a 2×4 had smashed me in the gut. My six year old son is incredibly bright, yet was coming home from school feeling tortured and inadequate. It didn’t add up until I heard his psycho-educational assessment.

I felt like I was drowning. I talked about it to anyone who would listen. My husband’s friend heard me ranting and directed me to a seminar at Branksome Hall, featuring Dr. Mel Levine.

His credentials seemed impressive – director of the University of North Carolina’s Clinical Center for the Study of Development and Learning, and co-founder of All Kinds of Minds, an organization that analyzes learning differences – so I went.

The hour and a half listening to Dr. Mel Levine was life changing. Although he was speaking to a capacity crowd, I felt as if he was talking directly to me about my son and our disappointing experience with the school system.

First, he noted that many children are gifted in one area and weak in another, confirming these kids are anything but dumb. Everyone in the room smiled with relief.

He believes every child is a puzzle with a unique way of processing information. Our job, as parents and educators, is to unlock the puzzle, understand how the child learns and present information to suit their unique learning style.

Much of his focus that night was alleviating parents’ fears about their children’s future success in the real world. “Valedictorians are the best memorizers” he points out. “Not a lot of jobs out there requiring memorization skills.” We laugh with relief.

According to Levine, children with learning challenges often intuitively focus on their strengths, making it easier to become specialists in their field of interest. Well rounded kids with good grades, traditionally considered to be a predictor of future success, can stumble in the real world if they don’t streamline their interests.

“I often tell the children I’m working with to have a look at the smartest, most athletic, most popular kid in your class, and keep in mind you may very well be seeing them at their finest hour.” I think back to my high school days, and agree with him.

Profiles change, we’re told. As your child’s learning style is demystified, and self esteem is restored, expect big changes.

I wished all principals, teachers and educational bureaucrats could have been there to hear his innovative, yet practical, ideas about teaching kids.

Here are some of my favorites:

· Every child is born with an “affinity”, an obsessive interest in cars, sports, fashion, dance, animals, etc. My son is consumed with costumes, and has been since a baby. Levine believes parents and educators should help identify that affinity, nurture it into a passion and turn it into a career.

· He has a wonderfully revolutionary idea that every book, project, and speech a child works on should be connected to this affinity, making the child a mini- expert. His reason – studies prove we absorb more when working on something we’re interested in.

· Most homework should be assigned as group projects. Levine pointed out every occupation, (think law, architecture, and construction) functions as a team, so our educational system should prepare kids accordingly.

· Levine cites a study in which university students were divided based on writing style – out of the box thinkers versus average students. The only consistent theme discovered amongst the “innovative” thinkers was a childhood filled with imaginative play, while the average students described a highly programmed and scheduled childhood.

The reality is we need to be prepared for a long battle with both the system, and sometimes the child. But the benefit of finding our children’s “bliss” combined with the effort to arm them with coping strategies is worthwhile and winnable. For more information about Dr. Mel Levine, visit www.allkindsofminds.org.

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