Tuesday, 30 June 2015

One-eyed man is king in a blind man’s country

Today I was conversing with Audrey - a fellow parent of a child with autism.  We had both been attending a social event with our children and were discussing the challenges we face with the education of our children.   I had on a previous occasion told Audrey about the Pocket Learner system I developed to enable my daughter Shari to build her communication skills and learn to read.   On this occasion I took the opportunity to demonstrate the system to her with the help of my little girl.  I took out one of the cards and asked Shari to read it.  She promptly responded “plum” showing that she could indeed identify the word.  When Audrey observed this she retorted that the system was too advanced for her daughter who at the age of seven is within Shari’s peer group. 

I find it quite peculiar that Audrey instantly determined that her little girl could not learn using the system after seeing another child excel.   Instead of seeing Shari’s performance as proof that the system works she instantly closed her mind to it and in so doing denied her daughter the opportunity to test a programme that might well empower her even in some small way.  American writer Richard Bach said "Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they're yours." 

When we started teaching Shari we did not know that it would work and that she would react so positively and so quickly.  That was three years ago and today she has a wide vocabulary and is able to read several hundred words despite her multiple learning difficulties diagnosis.  It was not an overnight change; it required consistency, patience and dedication.  Audrey’s daughter currently has no speech but the system enhances communication which is not necessarily verbal. It is unfortunate that the child will not be able to experience this tried and tested system which could enable her to embark on a path of personal growth, because of a decision taken by her mother.
Due to their personal anxieties people close their own doors and in the process often close the doors of those they love. When I was a child my parents did not support my athletic ability because they were of the opinion that athletics did not lead anywhere. These behaviours are often due to ignorance or fear - perhaps fear of failure or in some strange way, fear of success.  Many of us are cynical because of the flood of offers we encounter daily – we develop stone walls to protect ourselves, not knowing whom to trust.  Those walls may block the entry of negative things and dodgy people but that same wall also keeps the good things out.  They also serve to restrict us in more ways than one.  We should not be afraid to try, particularly when the evidence is staring us in the face.
That same attitude makes us lack self belief and so we trust our future to others, thinking that they are more equipped than we are.  As parents it is primarily our responsibility to educate our children – too many of us transfer that role to others who traverse through the lives of our children for a relatively short period.  We have to work alongside established institutions to educate our offspring for children with learning difficulties also have their contributions to make - their talents to develop and exploit.  They too have dreams and goals to nurture and be nurtured. We should not allow fear or personal insecurities to prevent us from enabling those for whom we care to achieve their potential.  Similarly we should not allow others to make us miss our calling, for at the end of the day we are ultimately individually responsible for the life we lead.
As life has no guarantees, I cannot promise other parents that their children will benefit from the Pocket Learner but I know that the system works.  I am under no illusion, I am fully aware that Shari is not at the same academic level as her classmates but she is running her own race.  We build on what we have, not focus on our deficiencies.  As a linguist, further education trainer and performance coach I have used my skills to develop the programme but it was Shari who made the system evolve.  If her progress makes her appear like a one-eyed man who is king in a blind man’s country, well so be it!  Whether we have one eye, two eyes or no eye at all, every one of us has within us seeds waiting to be planted, not buried.
Further information about the Pocket learner system can be accessed from our crowdfunding campaign page (http://igg.me/at/pocketlearner/x/9989598) and on the Pocket Learner website (http://pocketlearner.net/).

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Beauty from Ashes

Sometimes we receive news that change the course our lives and from one day to the next we are no longer the same.  In 2006 when I learnt that my daughter would be born disabled I was shocked, hurt and scared.  I didn’t know what to expect - all I could hear were people saying that life would be difficult, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to cope, the child wouldn’t be able to function effectively; I should consider my options. Shari is now 8 years old and like everyone else she has her challenges, but she is a complete and utter joy. 
 This week we launched a crowdfunding campaign -http://igg.me/at/pocketlearner/x/9989598 - to present the Pocket Learner educational development system to the world.  The Pocket Learner arose from the ashes of my frustration with Shari’s lack of academic progress.  I did not accept that my little girl could not achieve more than was evident through her work at school.  At home we set about working with her systematically to build her vocabulary.  We began by using pictures and then we introduced written words. Before long the Pocket Learner began to take shape and now she has a wide vocabulary and is able to read several hundred words. The system has the potential to impact the lives of children across the globe.  It will give hope to the many parents and carers who feel or who have been told that their children can’t learn.
 Sometimes we are faced with situations which we think have come to destroy us.  We automatically regard them as setbacks when indeed they are setups.  They are there to strengthen us, to build our resilience and prepare us to impact. It’s only after those moments when we crash and burn that we can rise from the ashes.  Those are the moments that we learn the most from; the ones that give us experience that we can use to teach others and save them from unnecessary pain. 
 Had I not gone through that period when all my dreams seemed to turn to ashes I would not have produced this beauty which is the Pocket Learner.  Had Shari not been born disabled I wouldn’t have been inspired to develop this innovation that will empower many like her to aspire higher and achieve goals hitherto unimagined.  I set out to help her find herself; it turned out that it was she who helped me to find myself.  For many years I worked in industry, in diplomacy, in the public service – I have never considered the matter of disability.  Now this is my mission, my life’s purpose. “What’s not dead, don’t throw away” (Jamaican adage) – never give up on anyone; indeed don’t give up on yourself.  Too often we judge a book by its cover, refusing to take the time to delve beneath and find the purpose.  If we dig deeper we’ll find dearer treasures – beauty from within the ashes. The pressures of life often squeeze us but just like a tube that produces when it is put under pressure, we too are forced to produce when pressure is applied – it is not there to kill us but rather to build our character.
 We have launched this crowdfunding campaign - The Pocket Learner: Reading without Boundaries on the Indiegogo platform to enable us to further develop the Pocket Learner and make it available to others like Shari; and for this we are seeking support. Even if your life is not touched by disability the system is a wonderful gift for any child. Further information on the system and on the campaign can be found our website:  www.pocketlearner.net. Help us make that difference; help us impact the lives of those who need it most.