Mission Makers: Sierra—propelled by her experience as a parent

Mission Makers: Sierra—propelled by her experience as a parent

As the Communications and Fundraising Manager, I am often assigned the task of interviewing staff about their work. Its always interesting to hear people’s stories, to find out why someone chose to work at the Learning Disabilities Society (LDS). Today, I’m doing something a little different; I’m sharing what led me to LDS.

am the parent of a non-binary* child with a learning difference. While my child Riley** is now a successful adult, I still remember clearly what their elementary school years were like. Riley was a bright kid, but very disorganized. They made what seemed like careless mistakes that resulted in lower grades. Riley was anxious in group discussions and did not like to raise their hand in class. Riley’s teacher for both Grades 3 and 4 assigned a tremendous amount of homework, which became a tearful and exhausting experience for both of us. 

Fortunately, Riley’s Grade 5 Teacher recognized the disorganization as a possible sign of a learning disability. I could not afford a Psychological Education Assessment (PsychEd), which ran about $2,000 at the time. The teacher explained that while the school did finance PsychEds, every school was only given a small number of slots each year, and children with behavioural issues or multiple disabilities were prioritized. Since Riley was a sweet and shy child, they were never disruptive in class, and their teacher said it might take years to work up the waitlist if it even happened at all. 

Thanks to some financial help from the great-grandparents, Riley received a PsychEd that resulted in a specific diagnosis and began twiceweekly sessions with an LDS instructor who specialized in their disability. At that time, I was a low-income graduate student; we lived in city-owned, rent-controlled housing; and I did not have the income to access these critical services. LDS helped me apply for in-house and external bursaries that covered nearly all my child’s expenses. From Grades 5 through 7Riley received LDS individualized educational support. Riley went from being a C- student to being a B+ student. When Riley graduated elementary school, they won the award for the mostimproved student.  

Besides improved grades, my child experienced other outcomes from their LDS instruction. Over the three years that Riley attended sessions at LDS, their confidence, ability to advocate for themself in class, and organizational skills improved dramatically. Riley learned the tools they needed to be able to handle schoolwork and homework on their own. Riley’s grades continued to improve, and by their senior year of high schoolthey became an A/A+ student.  

Riley also came out of their shell. Riley joined the Drama Club and began performing in plays and film productions. Before my eyes, I watched my kid transform from an anxious child afraid to raise their hand in class to a confident teenager willing to get up on a stage! After I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing and after Riley graduated from high school, we moved to Victoria, BC, where Riley now works and lives on their own.  

I never forgot what LDS did for my child. It was Riley’s remarkable transformation that inspired me to apply for a remote position with LDS when one became available. Riley is proof that LDS changes lives, and I wanted to help change lives too. 

Riley’s school years weren’t easy. I know what it feels like to be a low-income parent of a child with a learning difference. The difficult situation isn’t necessarily permanent, but when your kids need help, they need help nowregardless of whether you’re finishing a degree, or going through a rough patch, or—like many today—recently unemployed due to no fault of your own. 

Now, LDS offers even more programs to help low-income familiessuch as Family Coaching and UBC PsychEd Referrals. LDS has Pro-D, Spring Break, and Summer Break Camps that give working parents a safe and specialized place for their children when school is out. LDS has expanded their programs for teens to include RISE after School and PEERS Social Skills. 

If your child, or a child you know, might need help with a learning difference, please reach out to us! Or, if you think kids with learning differences deserve equitable, affordable access to learning support, no matter what their family’s financial situation is, please consider donating to LDS.

Thank you!

Sierra

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Sierra Gemma (she/her) is the parent of an adult child with a learning disability and a former LDS parent. Sierra brings ten years of experience writing for digital communications, grants, and fundraising and 15 years of volunteer and paid work with nonprofit organizations. She has a BA in History and Sociology and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. As the Communications and Fundraising Manager, Sierra’s priority is to ensure that LDS effectively spreads awareness of learning disabilities and engages the community to participate in removing the intersectional socioeconomic barriers to success for children with learning differences.

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*a non-binary person does not identify asor solely asa man or a woman and often uses they/them/their pronouns.  

**name changed to protect their privacy. 

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UBC and LDS collaboration brings affordable, accessible psychoeducational assessments to students

UBC and LDS collaboration brings affordable, accessible psychoeducational assessments to students

LDS is thrilled to announce to our families that we are now able to offer referrals for psychoeducational and neuropsychological evaluations to some of our families!

 

We are collaborating with the University of British Columbia’s Psychological Services and Counselling Training Centre (PSCTC). The PSCTC is a university-based setting for clinical training and research within the UBC’s Faculty of Education. The PSCTC supports graduate training in psychoeducational assessment and intervention, and in counselling, maintains an up-to-date Test Library of psychoeducational assessment and intervention and mental health and social development resources, provides service and leadership in the profession and community, and facilitates research in education.

 

This collaboration with UBC will be a game changer for many of our families, who will now have access to an affordable assessment over a time span that is potentially years faster than currently available via other means. Having this additional evidence and deeper understanding about their child’s learning strengths and stretches will help our families be better advocates for their children and ensure they get learning supports that are tailored to their child’s needs.

 

These evaluations will be offered by PSCTC at a rate that is roughly half of what is available via private practitioners. And thanks to the generous support of our donors and sponsors, qualifying LDS families will be eligible for partial to full bursary support to subsidize the cost of the assessment so that we can make it accessible and affordable to all. 

 

While LDS is facilitating these referrals and will be providing space at our Learning Centre to conduct portions of the assessment that need to be done in person, families will have a direct relationship with UBC PSCTC, will follow their procedures and policies, and will have full ownership of all reports and data generated through the evaluation process.

 

Everyone at LDS would like to thank the professors, staff and students at UBC’s PSCTC for offering this invaluable opportunity to our families. We cannot wait to help more families access the learning supports they need and deserve! 

 

How do referrals work? 

LDS families will be referred to the PSCTC; a professor will arrange an initial intake screening call to see if and what degree of evaluation might be most appropriate for each child. If you are interested and have not yet been contacted by us, please reach out to info@ldsociety.ca to discuss this opportunity.

 

More about psycho-educational and neuro-psychological assessments at PSCTC (from https://psctc.educ.ubc.ca/facilities-services/ )
The PSCTC Assessment Clinics offer psycho-educational assessments and/or consultation for children and youth who have questions about their cognitive, academic, social-emotional, or behavioural strengths and weaknesses in order to provide diagnoses and/or to develop strategies to meet their individual learning needs. Clinicians are interns, senior graduate students, current doctoral students, or recent graduates from the UBC school psychology training program. Interns commonly fulfill this rotation during the summer months. Overall coordination of work in the Clinics is provided by the Professional Practice Leader, working with other doctoral trained, registered psychologists or Certified School Psychologists.

 

The PSCTC also has a neuropsychological assessment clinic where the emphasis is on neuropsychological evaluation of children and youth to help identify areas of strength and weakness to help with their medical treatment, educational planning, and treatment (such as therapy/counselling or behavioral management). The evaluation will be appropriate for children and youth who are experiencing difficulties with learning, attention, behaviour, or social functioning, difficulty with emotional control, medical or developmental problems that affect the brain, or brain injuries from accidents, medical treatment, or other experiences. The assessment reports will also provide support for children and youth who may have a history of cancer, concussion or traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, ADHD, learning disabilities, Tourette’s Syndrome, and other medical conditions. This assessment clinic will also provide supervised training opportunities for School and Applied Child Psychology doctoral students and is a primary training rotation for doctoral interns in the BC School and Applied Psychology Internship Program. 

Early RISErs for 3-5 yr olds: applications open now!Learn more!