Richard Lavoie: Changing the Way we Look at Learning Disabilities

“It’s okay, I know how you feel.” To most of us, this statement seems innocently empathetic and well-meaning. However, to author and educator Richard Lavoie, uttering this phrase is one of the biggest mistakes that a Special Education teacher can make, and after realizing this, he was inspired to take action to change the way that teachers view and treat children with learning disabilities.

In “How difficult can this be?”, Lavoie hosts an intense, interactive workshop (called “The F.A.T. City Workshop–one of his most well-known seminars) in order to provide individuals with insight into the frustration, anxiety and tension that is encountered by students with learning disabilities each and every school day. Through a series of activities and group discussions, Richard Lavoie offers a wide variety of powerful messages regarding learning disabilities and the Special Education system, many of which are still relevant today.

The first time that I watched this video, I was in the second year of my undergraduate degree. My education course for that year had started a lecture series on students with special needs, and used this workshop as an introductory tool. I remember just how much Lavoie’s presentation resonated with me, and how shocked I was to realize that many of the problems he points out are still being experienced by many students with learning disabilities. I had the opportunity to watch “How difficult can this be?” recently during my alternative practicum, and I was still as much in awe as I was three years ago. I also took time to watch Lavoie’s follow-up video called “Beyond F.A.T. City,” and found myself incredibly inspired by what  he had to say.

The message in this video is simple, yet crucial for anyone who works with students with learning disabilities: 1) A learning disability isn’t a problem— it is simply a difference in the way one learns, and 2) Learning disabilities are something that children can have, not what they are. In other words, we need to remember that a learning disability is not the defining feature of any kid’s identity. It is merely one component in an incredibly unique and multifaceted child, who is capable of greatness and will thrive when provided with support from compassionate adults and effective instruction. I would recommend both of these videos to just about anyone, and I will certainly be taking Lavoie’s advice with me into my own classroom, in order to minimize anxiety and maximize self-efficacy in my students with special needs.




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