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Home schooling presents extra challenges for kids with learning disabilities

Technology is empowering some kids to take control of their own learning, boosting their self-esteem
Steeping 4words
Dana Ricci reads with Lark, the comfort dog at her tutoring academy in Port Moody that specializes in working with students struggling with learning challenges.

Lark is missing her people.

The golden lab comfort dog is a gentle and accommodating listener for kids reading stories at the Stepping 4words Learning Center, a tutoring academy in Port Moody that specializes in working with kids struggling through learning disabilities like dyslexia, attention deficit and auditory processing disorders and even autism.

But with schools closed and the learning center shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lark’s daily routine now consists of lying in the sun at the historic Perry Roe building where Stepping 4words is located.

The learning hasn’t stopped, though.

Dana Ricci, who runs the tutoring service along with Carol Gallagher, said the need for students working through challenges to maintain their progress despite the absence of formal learning in school is more important than ever. That’s put extra pressure on parents already struggling with the stresses of working from home, economic uncertainty and protecting the safety of their family.

Ricci said when schools were shut, enrolment at her tutoring centre “dropped to zero.” 

It has since rebounded somewhat as parents realized specialized learning must be ongoing. Not enough to allow Ricci to bring back a full complement of tutors, she said, but the centre is filling the gaps with online tools and home teaching packages.

She said it can be a big ask for parents to pick up the ball from educators that have specific training to work with kids who have special needs.

“Parents are intimidated because they think it’s too hard,” Ricci said. “They’re sort of lost in the process.”

Educators have also had to adjust, moving their support and encouragement to virtual platforms instead of one-on-one in-person teaching sessions that sometimes include a reassuring scratch of Lark’s ears.

Ricci said the switch has led to some interesting revelations, like the sense of control and empowerment kids get by managing their own learning on an iPad. That little boost of self-esteem can have a positive impact on their engagement with their lessons and assignments.

Ricci said for parents working with their kids at home, it’s important to keep their interest by guiding their reading to subjects that interest them and play off their capabilities rather than their disabilities.

“We have to set them up for success,” she said.