As the Communications and Fundraising Manager, I am often assigned the task of interviewing staff about their work. It’s 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.
I 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 twice–weekly 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 7, Riley 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 most–improved 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 school, they 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 now, regardless 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 families, such 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.
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.
*a non-binary person does not identify as—or solely as—a man or a woman and often uses they/them/their pronouns.
**name changed to protect their privacy.