Dr. April J. Lisbon knows all about unique learners on both a personal and professional level. Her oldest son who is in high school now, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was two years old. In addition to being a parent, Lisbon also has twenty years of experience as a school psychologist. Her journey with her son has led her to become an Autism Coach and Strategist at her own business, Running Your Race Enterprises. Lisbon spends a lot of time helping mothers navigate having a child with special needs. She is also the author of three published books on parenting. Lisbon believes from both her personal and professional experiences that there is more than one way to structure education for different types of learners.
“No two people are alike so to expect the one size fits all mentality is unfair to students or the teachers that serve them,” Lisbon says. “By celebrating the diversity and uniqueness of each student, you’re showing them that it is okay to be different and accepted.”
Lisbon’s son’s education is guided by his IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. IEPs are created by a team that includes the student’s parents as well as school personnel. AN IEP is a legal document that spells out what will equip an individual special needs student for success. An IEP can address things like optimum test-taking situations or homework load or even modifications while in the hallways when classes are changing.
“My son’s IEP has helped to level the playing field for him when it comes ensuring that his assignments are completed and turned in based on his unique needs,” Lisbon says. “Because my son requires his work to be chunked to prevent him from being overwhelmed, the extended time and doing things in reasonable portions has increased his confidence in his ability to succeed as a student. It has also minimized his dislike for learning as he often felt like he was unable to keep up with the pace of the class or his peers.”
IEPs are evaluated at least once a year by the child’s team. Dr. Lisbon encourages parents and students to keep the lines of communication open.
“It’s important that you are aware of the information that is in your child’s IEP and teach your child how to share with you what accommodations and modifications work best for them and which ones don’t,” Lisbon says. “By having this ongoing dialogue with your child, it not only helps them develop the necessary self-advocacy skills for themselves in the classroom but also helps you as the parent better advocate for your child during IEP meetings.”
Lisbon believes it is every parent’s job to cheer on their children and to fight for them to be a part of their school community.
“By practicing inclusiveness, students who are unique learners gain a sense that their disability doesn’t define who they are as people. Instead, it highlights how their ability, or super powers as I like to call it, helps to enhance the learning of all and vice versa,” Lisbon says.
How Do We Measure Success?
Measuring academic success for unique learners goes beyond letter grades and test scores. Just like there isn’t one single way to teach all children, there isn’t one single way to decide that children have mastered a concept.
“As an educator, one of the things I look for when measuring students’ success rates is whether or not they can tell me what they’ve learned in their own words,” Lisbon says. “If a student is able to share with me insight from a lesson, I know that they’ve heard what was shared and have the ability to apply the information.”
Lisbon adds that another measure of success is whether or not the child is motivated to go to school. Motivated children are usually being satisfied by the curriculum and how they are being taught.
The Educational Journey
Unique learners and their parents face many challenges as they navigate the educational system.
“Never give up during this process as having a child in special education can be a lonely road if others in your circle are unable to share your story, “Lisbon says. “Knowing that it’s okay that your child may not take the traditional path through school doesn’t limit their opportunities. It just means that they may have to navigate one or two more roads in order to get to their final destination.”