One in 5 children and adults nationwide have learning and attention issues. During the month of August, We-Care.com is paying special tribute to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), which has has spent the last 37 years working diligently to improve the lives of these individuals. In order to learn more about learning disabilities, we interviewed NCLD’s Executive Director, James Wendorf.
1. You’ve worked with NCLD for 15 years now, and three decades working with children’s education, what drew you to NCLD and what has kept you excited all these years?
It’s about kids! My career is about helping kids with literacy and/or learning challenges to get a leg up–helping them improve their chances for success in school and in life.
I’m incredibly proud of the impact NCLD has had over the past 15 years. We’ve strengthened laws, screened hundreds of thousands of 3-5 year olds, created evidence-based tools for educators, provided professional development support to school leaders and supported millions of parents to help them be effective advocates for their children. We’ve improved the lives of kids–that’s the single most important factor for me and the entire NCLD team.
2. What are the biggest challenges facing someone with a learning disability today?
Low expectations, pure and simple. Unfortunately, too many educators, policy makers and even parents themselves believe that young people with learning and attention issues can’t and won’t make it–to a regular high school diploma, on to college or a vocational program and into a job that will provide meaning and adequate financial support.
The trends, though, are positive: reading and math achievement is up, more kids are achieving a regular diploma, fewer are dropping out and more are advancing to community colleges and universities.
3. What has been or would be the most influential public policy for people with learning disabilities?
I look forward to the day when we have a public policy, enshrined in law, that guarantees all children the right to an education that personalizes instruction to their strengths and challenges, provides a learning environment that is universally designed to maximize a child’s learning, “levels the learning field” through universally accessible supports, accommodations and technology, and helps educators and parents work together toward a goal of college, career and life readiness. Such a policy for all would ensure the success of people with learning and attention issues.
4. Do you feel there is adequate awareness around the issues of learning disabilities? If not, what is the most important point to get across to a general public?
We are at a turning point regarding public awareness of the whole range of learning and attention issues, which affect 1 out of every 5 individuals. NCLD and 14 other nonprofit organizations have joined together to develop a cutting-edge online resource for parents who have children with learning and attention issues. Understood.org will not only support parents with personalized information, but also raise awareness of these issues.
The most important news here is loud and clear: young people with learning and attention issues have the same intelligence as their peers, and with the right instruction and support can achieve truly astonishing things. We need to understand their strengths as well as their challenges, because understanding is everything!
5. When it comes to serving the needs of individuals with learning disabilities, how does the United States compare to other countries around the world? Are there obstacles or aspects of our culture that prevent us from moving forward?
The United States is the acknowledged leader in conducting foundational research, developing interventions and supports that work effectively with students for both academic and behavioral issues, and passing into law a set of civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities throughout their lifespan.
Where we as a nation need to improve is in our ability to implement this knowledge, these methods and these protections where they count the most: in classrooms, schools and communities nationwide. We need to up our game when it comes to implementation!