Looking for information on learning disabilities in children? Parents of children with learning disabilities can relate with author-mom Kathryn Burke when she writes, “I realized I was angry with many people – people who did not have the skills that I thought they should have to do what I thought they should be able to do for our son.” Kathryn Burke decided to share their family’s story, An Accidental Advocate: A Mother’s Journey with Her Exceptional Son, to raise awareness of people with learning disabilities (LD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Kathryn wrote, “Disability affects the entire family, and we were not immune from that. I wrote the kind of book I would have liked to have read when we were beginning on our journey. My husband and I felt so isolated.”
Kathryn Burke’s book is their journey of advocacy for their first born son, Colin, who has learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, sensory issues and problems with social skills. It chronicles the challenges many parents must face to get a correct diagnosis and the support their child requires to succeed in school and in life. Kathryn’s continued commitement to find the best for her bright, exceptional son will inspire other parents. Hopefully it will alert our healthcare and educational systems that lots still needs to be available for early detection of learning disabilities in children. The author sums up the problem so well when she writes, “A “Wait and Fail” mentality permeates our school systems. The “Let’s wait and see” should be changed to “Let’s check and be sure!”
The first part of the book reads like a personal journal documenting Kathryn’s difficult years to adulthood. We learn of her emotionally battered teen years living with her alcoholic mother who also abused non-prescription drugs. Kathryn finally escapes to live on her own at the age of 21. Kathryn must be congratulated on her perseverance to plod on with life even against huge obstacles and manage to get her Master’s degree. Then we read about the start of her career, about the man she married and parenthood. When her mom died from a massive heart attack when Kathryn’s first child was only four weeks old, she writes, “It was a sad ending to a sad life.”
When Colin was born, like so many parents of children with special needs, her personal life became a life of caring and advocating for her exceptional child. She shares her parenting challenges for the first fifteen years of her son’s life. When Colin was a young boy, due to his recurring health problems, and speech and language delays, Kathryn who worked as a health care consultant and administrator turned education advocate. An Accidental Advocate is how her family found the support her son Colin needed for his learning challenges.
About Learning Disabilities in Children
Colin who is in grade ten at the end of the book is certainly lucky to have parents who can help and guide him to be happy, healthy, and reach his potential. He is fortunate that both parents worked together. Kathryn writes, “My husband and I worked as partners to support Colin’s needs.” They were his first and constant cheer leaders. They found a yearlong intense therapy program to help Colin overcome stuttering when he was 5 years old. They researched to find the best schools. They helped him with difficult times coping with bullies, after school volunteering work and summer volunteer work in the community. When the book ends, Colin seems to be heading towards a teaching career with young children who have learning difficulties also.
For our readers, who are on the most part parents, educators, caregivers of children with different needs, An Accidental Advocate will encourage you to continue advocating for your child until he is in the right programs with the necessary supports to succeed. The following are some of the issues Ms. Burke address in her book. Unfortunately learning disabilities in children or other special needs are often only diagnosed after lots of trial and error tactics have been tried. This was the case for Colin.
- Colin suffered from continuous respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma when he was a toddler and during his pre-school years. It seems these early health problems are common among children with learning disabilities…but they did not know this.
- Colin, at two and a half years, had significant speech and language delays. His parents saw that he received speech therapy. Kathryn is disappointed that no one told them that these delays were risk factors for learning disabilities. As parents they were not aware and they missed the early signs and failed to get support at the earliest possible stage.
- About Professional Help – Kathryn had high standards and high expectations and she did not believe this was unrealistic or unreasonable.
- Care for a child with exceptional needs is expensive and very time consuming. Many families must either forgo treatment or suffer financial hardship. In two and half years, treatment and educational resources had cost the Burke family over $10,000! Both parents tried working from home and working at different jobs to allow them time to do all that was needed. Kathryn shares,” With Paul’s support, I could shift my work to the evening on those days when Colin had daytime appointments…I also became the queen of early morning work. I began my day at 5:00 am…”
- Successful parenting requires constant vigilance. Become an informed parent. Know the requirements for special needs help paid for by the state or province where you live.
- To be effective, therapist should build a rapport and gain the trust of the child and the parents.
- After a plan has been formulated and implemented to help your child, it has to be evaluated whether that plan is making a difference. This should be done within a few months.
Ms. Burke also has advice to those dealing with parents, like educators and health care professionals, know that parents can be battered and bruised from their journey of support for their children. Showing compassion is incredibly important.
About ADHD and Medication
When Kathryn and Paul started addressing Colin’s attention issues they were anti-medication. They learned more about the matter and about the different types of medication like sustained release (SR) Ritalin. Armed with this knowledge, they gave ADHD medication a try and were very pleased with the results. Colin did not know what he had taken and announced that day, “I feel like a new man today!” His teacher, also not told about the Ritalin, advised them two weeks in the treatment, “He seemed to be settling down and doing his work.” He still benefits from ADHD medication.
Two facts that the author has included are very important:
- The estimate of individuals with learning disabilities who also have ADHD range from 30% to 50%.
- Taking ADHD medication has been shown to lower the risk of addiction to non-prescribed or illegal drugs and alcohol.
Statistics show that 1 in 10 people or 3.4 million Canadians live with learning disabilities. All these children with learning disabilities have to be identified as early in life as possible so that they receive the support and early intervention treatment required. When children with learning disabilities are in school, support has to be in place to meet their needs. Kathryn Burke’s book, An Accidental Advocate: A Mother’s Journey with Her Exceptional Son, proves parents, the health care system, and educational system still have a lot to learn about learning disabilities in children. Kathryn’s journey with her exceptional son should make raising your child with learning challenges easier. She warns you of the pit falls and gives you hope that once these children’s needs are met they can go on to be successful individuals.
About the Author
Taken from her site: Kathryn Burke has an honor’s undergraduate and graduate degree in Sociology from the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada. She held several positions of progressive responsibility in health and hospital management, including the role of Assistant Vice President – Ambulatory and Community Services for two urban hospitals in Edmonton, Alberta. She established a consulting practice in 1994, providing services to clients across Canada in the health, education and human services sectors. She is the author of the White Paper from the World Summit on Learning Disabilities. This document was designed for use by policy makers, and has been tabled in Canada’s Senate and in the Legislature of the Province of Alberta. Kathryn is also the author of the Survey on Education, Alberta’s most comprehensive survey which she prepared for Public Interest Alberta.
She has held numerous volunteer roles in education advocacy including positions on the board and executive of the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta. She served as an inaugural member of the Education Task Force for Public Interest Alberta. Other volunteer roles include serving as a member of the board and executive committee for the Child and Adolescent Services Association (CASA), an organization providing a full range of primary to tertiary mental health services to children and adolescents in central and northern Alberta, and the Edmonton area.
In early 2009, Kathryn stepped down from the Board of the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta to assume the role as its part time Executive Director. She combines this activity with other consulting services offered through her company, Burke & Associates Inc.
In October, 2009, she launched, LDExperience.ca, an aggregate site for people affected by learning disabilities to share their experiences. Kathryn has a column on the site. It attracts visitors from all over the world.