One of the leading factors influencing family life is the intellectual and emotional development of the children. In most families, the children grow up healthy, happy and able to fulfill their academic or Torah-based goals. But what happens when a child is perpetually falling behind and is then diagnosed with a learning disability? Unfortunately, if their situation does not improve, they may face a lifetime of academic and social setbacks that can influence the rest of their lives.
As a parent of a child with learning disabilities I have seen first hand the frustration my son experienced as he failed test after test in school. I also witnessed the miraculous changes that took place when we made the decision to send him to the P’TACH-Chaim Berlin program two years ago.
For those parents who are unaware of the complex issues facing children with learning difficulties, here is a brief introduction.
To begin with, students with learning disabilities (LD) have difficulty processing information in one or more of several areas of learning. They may have problems getting information into the brain (called an input problem). They may have difficulty with sound input (called an auditory perception or auditory processing disorder) or with visual input (called a visual perception disorder). This student may have difficulty integrating information once it is received in the brain. These problems may include the ability to sequence information, to infer meaning (abstract), or to organize information. Some may have problems with the storage and retrieval of information or memory. The memory problem might involve information still in the process of being learned (often called working memory or short-term memory) or material that has been learned but not retained (long-term memory).
Finally, students may have difficulty getting information out of the brain (called an output problem). This problem may impact the ability to send information to their muscles. For example, a student with this problem may have difficulty coordinating the muscles of the hand and have slow, tedious and awkward handwriting (called a grapho-motor problem). Additionally, this student may have difficulty getting thoughts onto paper (reflected by problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, or organization of the thoughts). Students also may have difficulty with language output, including problems organizing their thoughts, finding the right words, and expressing themselves.
There is no one definitive characteristic found in a child or adolescent with learning disabilities. The student may show characteristics in one or more of the areas described. In fact, it is very uncommon to have only one area of difficulty. Also, how a learning disability manifests in school is based on the student’s grade level and the demands for that grade level.
In our case, we were the first to notice that our son had learning problems in third grade, problems that were more than just an occasional rough spot in the academic road. We knew that he was sitting silently in class and wondering “Will I ever be able to feel good about myself?” We realized that unless we switched schools right away he would probably never be able to learn with his peers or keep up to his grade level. But where would he go that would understand his educational problems and be sensitive to our religious standards?
Our lives began to change when we sent him to P’TACH.
P’TACH was founded in 1976 to serve the most neglected element of Jewish children – the learning disabled boys and girls who had been unwanted by schools, misunderstood by their families and ostracized by their neighbors and siblings.
Their program provides individualized academic remediation and support services such as counseling and speech/language therapy to enable children, like our son, to remain in a yeshiva setting and to realize his maximum potential.
After the first two years at P’TACH, my son’s life had changed forever. A child who had historically received 30s in all his subjects is now writing complex essays and just received a 94 on his final math test!
How could this happen? On the first day of school they began to change my son’s paradigm about education and himself. The first thing P’TACH attempted to do was repair his badly damaged self-esteem. They gave him work he could do, so that he would no longer be afraid to try. They also rewarded him continuously so that he gained pride in his accomplishments. Gradually, they give him harder work, taught him how to organize his thoughts, books, work etc.
Small classes are the key. Most of our son’s classes have a maximum of nine to ten students. Some of those classes break up into even smaller units giving the children more personalized attention. Additionally, the P’TACH Chumash workbooks that our son uses have been carefully crafted to teach fundamental skills in learning and break down the p’sukim into easily digested bits that he can absorb.