Is Progress Possible?
I recently spoke with the parent of a special needs child who has made significant gains using Fast ForWord. Some of this progress is in areas that she’d always been told would never improve. When I asked if she had any advice for other parents, she said, “I didn’t know that this was something that my child with Down Syndrome would be able to do, and he has.” As a result, she wanted other parents to understand the importance of recognizing their child’s potential.
Brain plasticity tells us that the brain can adapt and change throughout life. Understanding that potential for growth has opened new doors in treatment and intervention of learning challenges. We often hear from distraught parents who’ve been told that nothing more can be done to help their child improve. Others share that their child feels less capable than peers, has given up, or is no longer trying in school. These same families often discover that progress is possible after finding the right intervention(s) to address their child’s specific needs.
Over the years, a number of these families have chosen to share their stories with the Gemm Learning community.
Georgia had difficulty remembering information at an early age. Reading was a struggle, and a limited vocabulary made oral communication difficult. A diagnosis of language and fine motor delays came when she started school, but her mother was sure everyone was missing the bigger picture. The learning challenges and lack of appropriate support took a toll. In time, Georgia’s mom observed that her child appeared “just broken by the school system”. She felt the school couldn’t meet her daughter’s needs. As she watched her child retreat from the world, she began researching Georgia’s challenges and potential interventions. Fast ForWord stood out right away, but wasn’t easily accessible or affordable. They tried a private school instead, but ultimately found it “overpromised and under delivered”. A referral from another school led them to an audiologist who diagnosed her daughter with Auditory Processing Disorder.
Shortly after the diagnosis, Georgia’s father found Gemm Learning online. The exercises were challenging for his ten-year-old daughter at first. There were lots of tears during the first month. They kept at it though. Georgia’s parents supported and encouraged her, occasionally contacting Gemm staff when strategies were needed to move beyond difficult objectives. After 3 months on the program, Georgia was reading and understanding street signs for the first time. At 6 months, she was reading chapter books, focusing longer, and recalling what she learned. By the time Georgia turned 11, she was participating and following along in conversations with peers, speaking up in public, and asking questions of store and restaurant staff when needed. “Now she has a confidence.” Her mother shared. “She’s walking around, and she’s like, I’m smart. I can learn.”
Elissia has dyslexia and difficulty focusing. She struggled with phonics and had auditory processing challenges. Trying to compensate in school often left her mentally exhausted, making homework even more difficult. The lack of progress in reading eventually began to impact her attitude and interest in school. Elissia’s grandfather observed her challenges. He recalled experiencing similar difficulties himself and watching Elissia’s mother grapple with them as well when she went through school. He came across our program as a possible solution and shared it with Elissia’s mom. His 2nd grade granddaughter wasn’t open to the program at first and considered it more school work. Keeping her focused and on task was a challenge, but the exercises became part of their routine. Within the first month, Elissia’s reading comprehension and speed began to improve. Interest and confidence in reading soon followed.
Although she is still working on meeting her reading and math goals, she made gains in both areas. In time, she started reading for fun and doing well on spelling tests. Her grades also improved. The quarter after they started Fast ForWord Elssia made the B honor roll for the first time. “That was huge for her!” her mom proudly shared.
Sal’s mother assisted Gemm students who used the software when he was a baby and always knew that she’d like her son to try Fast ForWord. She just wasn’t sure when. Sal had a number of delays associated with his Down Syndrome. Although she was mostly hopeful that the program would improve her son’s reading, she confesses that she wasn’t sure exactly where it would benefit him. He became more and more comfortable with a computer, so she decided to give the program a try at the end of his third grade year. Sal was excited to work on the exercises on his new computer. He quickly grasped the routine and was focused on the exercises. His mother found that her fears about the change in routine and timely sessions were unnecessary. The child, for whom endurance was often the biggest challenge, worked independently during most sessions. Sal began to work for longer periods in class as well, no longer abandoning tasks once they became lengthy or frustrating.
His mother had never tried to teach him phonics, being told early on that individuals with Down Syndrome couldn’t learn to read that way. But here too, Sal surprised her. After years of sight word only instruction, he began trying to sound out words on his own. While they have seen gains in comprehension as well, he is just on his first exercise of the Reading Series. She plans to continue with the program and see how far it takes him. Sal’s mother feels her son “can accomplish more than most people think he can. He continues to surprise me.”
Caroline has Attention Deficit Disorder, dyscalculia, and severe dyslexia. She made some gains in school, but still had substantial difficulty, especially in math. At the end of her 4th grade year, she was given an IQ test. Her mother attended a parent/teacher conference afterwards and was informed by the resource teacher and other special education professionals that her daughter didn’t do very well. She was then told that her daughter had achieved all she could. “She’d reached her ceiling and this was the best she could do.” She left the meeting feeling as though the school had given up on her child. She was determined to help her improve, however. They tried an online program that allowed Caroline to listen to stories and then read them aloud. After a while, she began to progress, confirming her mother’s feelings about her child’s potential.
Caroline’s mother realized that her daughter needed something more and started Gemm Learning the summer before 5th grade. She also enrolled her in a new school for the fall. She liked that Fast ForWord would address Caroline’s underlying issues and allow her to work at her pace. As summer went on, she could hear her daughter’s reading fluency improve. She observed gains in math as well. When Caroline started Fast ForWord, she was working at a 1st grade level in math. This year she is working nearly two grade levels higher in math, on level in science, history, and religion, and has made the A, B honor roll every quarter. “[She was] somebody they were going to write off. Yet she does grade level work and gets A’s and B’s. Caroline also has self-confidence now, she didn’t have that before.”
Never Give Up
When you hear the words, your child will never, or your child likely can’t, or we have exhausted our resources and there is nothing more we can do, please remember the words of this mom, “You are your child’s best advocate. Whether you try Gemm Learning or another intervention, never give up on your child’s potential. Progress is possible if you find the right pathway.”