Sometimes a sequel needs a 20-year gap; such is the case for author Mary Ellen Clancy’s work.
In 2001, she released the book Education with a Difference; Sept. 11 at the People’s Place Library’s community room, she launched Learning Disabilities & Success: A 20 Year Follow-up.
For promotional material, Clancy came up with the following passage to sum up her new book.
“How can you expect a person with a learning disability to be successful? How is it possible? Meet six adults with learning disabilities in their university years and revisit them in their forties. Follow their struggles and their triumphs as they discover their strengths and strategies for success.
“These resilient and creative learners show us how success can happen and how we can help to make it a reality. What does success look like? This book will show you.
“These pages offer a wealth of hard-won insights and proven strategies. We see differences turned into assets and the habits of success developed at university carried forward into building careers.”
In talking to the Casket a day prior to the launch event, Clancy expanded on the notion of “looking beyond the deficits” when it comes to learning disabilities.
“We all know about those, they’re, kind of, scary sometimes,” Clancy said.
“But this book looks beyond those deficits, to the possibilities for success. We want to explore those possibilities and I try to do that by having first person accounts from people with learning disabilities who were successful.
“I accompany those accounts with my perspective, my comments as a person who was trying to facilitate their success. Sometimes it’s not that easy to be helpful; you’re trying but, sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what is really going on and how to be helpful.”
She talked about the “responsibility” of solutions falling on both the person with the learning disability and society, in general.
“I also wanted to make the point that people with learning disabilities have a responsibility to figure out how they learn and what kind of things they might need to assist them; to show what they know and to get information in,” she said.
“But the responsibility shouldn’t be all theirs. We have to work to educate the community, other people … helpers. There are people with goodwill who want things to work out well, want these people to learn and be successful, but they [the people of goodwill] have to be educated and, perhaps, make some changes as well; provide a welcoming and accessible environment.
“So I think there are two parts to the puzzle.”
Clancy noted her career has been about helping students with learning disabilities and, all along the way, she was getting an education in how best to do so.
“I worked for years at St. F.X., 20 of them, really, as a counselor in student services and there I met a lot of students with learning disabilities … who were at university,” she said.
“That’s one of the things this book tries to deal with. How can you expect people with learning disabilities [to be successful]. They don’t read very well, maybe don’t spell very well, or it could be unknown territory for them, maybe they have trouble communicating. We know that, at the least, they have trouble with communication processing – either taking in information or getting it out. So how it is possible? How can you really expect them to be successful? That’s the surprise; that they are and can be.
“With those students, we worked away trying to understand the puzzle of learning disabilities.”
She also talked about her earlier experience working with younger students.
“My very first job, way back when I came out of university, was working with 8 to 10 year olds who were having trouble in school and I did testing and assessment with them,” she said. “I found a whole bunch of bright kids who weren’t thriving in the classroom. Back then, we didn’t know very much what to do about that except say, ‘work hard, try hard, but, maybe, you better think of something besides academics.’
“Everyone wants it to work out well but people do all kinds of thing when they get frustrated; everyone is trying, but it’s still not working.
“The poor prognosis really did play through for some, but, other times; parents played a tremendous part or, maybe, it was a teacher who, kind of, caught on and figured out ways to move the kid forward. Those are the people who really made a difference to the students I talked to.”
Clancy again stressed the importance of “educated goodwill.”
“You can’t just mean to be helpful, you have to figure out, along with the person, how to be helpful and how to make success happen.
“So I had those two experiences and that early experience, you’re thinking; these kids have to come in here every day, try their hardest and through no fault of their own, fail. I thought, gee, they can’t even get out of here until they’re 15, how can this possibly work out?
“So that made me go back to school and I did various things before I got to St. F.X. I’ve worked away on that puzzle for most of my working career.”
She said dealing with the students who, despite having a learning disability still managed to earn their way to St. F.X., was part of her education and puzzle building.
“They must know something I sure don’t know; so I learned from them, really,” she said.
“They knew about what they needed and some had been very successful and others were really struggling. The environment makes a big difference to people with learning disabilities.
“If they can find good fit environments, where they can show their strengths but minimize their weaknesses. If you can do an oral presentation rather than write a paper; they’ve started that in high school, where you can do a video sometimes. University is still a pretty print dominated place, but it’s moving along.
“This book documents the progress we all made in looking at learning disabilities.”
Including moving into the working world for these individuals.
“What the book does is show you what that looks like in real life,” Clancy said. “You’ll see, because there are five different people, how they all handled it a little bit different, in a way that suits them. I think it’s very rich that way; these individuals turned their differences into assets and marketed their assets and earned jobs. What does that look like?”
To read about that, order the book in paperback or Kindle formats from Amazon.ca, by searching Mary Ellen Clancy, Learning Disabilities & Success.
For more on Clancy, visit her website at ldandsuccess.ca.