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Nov. 7, 2005

Dealing with disabilities

by Devon Madison, Online Entertainment Editor
B-e-c-a-u-s-e.

For most high school students, the word "because" is not difficult to spell. But for junior Robert Ginsberg, it would be a struggle if his second grade teacher hadn't taught him to sound it out.
Junior Robert Ginsburg is one of Blair's students that continues to succeed in school despite his disability. Zoe Norvell
Junior Robert Ginsburg is one of Blair's students that continues to succeed in school despite his disability.


Ginsberg has dyslexia, a learning disorder that impairs reading and comprehension skills. For teenagers like him, remembering how to spell simple words can be harder than doing other things. While Ginsberg can quickly solve a trigonometric equation, he still uses the technique he learned in second grade to spell the word others wouldn't think twice about writing.

Ginsberg doesn't let his dyslexia get in the way of his education. He maintains good grades in some of the hardest classes at Blair, such as AP Modern World History, even if it means getting his mom to read him the extensive AP text notes aloud, consuming hours of their day. Ginsberg still struggles with many things that kids without disabilities don't have to deal with. "Because I can't spell, the meaning of my writing sometimes gets lost in the sentence," he says.

Many students across the nation are in the same position as Ginsberg. According to IDEA Data, 26,218 children between the ages of 12 and 17 in 2003 have been diagnosed with a specific learning disability. The National Center for Education Statistics, a web site that provides public access to education survey data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, states that in 2001, 95 percent of public schools in the nation had children with learning disabilities, while only 55 percent of those schools had special hardware available to aid those students. Of the 26,000 students with disabilities, half of them don't have the right tools, hardware and accommodations that Ginsberg and other Blazers do.

Not only is it difficult for students to read and comprehend at the same pace as their peers, they also have to deal with criticism from their friends and classmates. Junior Maura Druhan has a learning disability that impedes her ability to understand simple skills and concepts. Druhan finds difficulty in dealing with her disabilities because she feels like she's on a different learning level than many of her friends. "I just feel like I'm not in the classes I want to be in, like honors and AP classes," she says. "I guess I want to be in the same classes as my friends."

Speech language pathologist Bonnie Curl, who specializes in the assessment, treatment and prevention of communication disorders and runs a private practice in Takoma Park, works with children with disabilities. She helps them improve their reading comprehension, reading decoding and written language skills, which she says are the most common learning disabilities. The problem with reading comprehension is not that kids can't read, but that they don't understand the passage.

"If your eyes are on the page, teachers assume you know what you're talking about," says Curl. When the weakness lies in written expression, it's likely that the student can't even write a single paragraph.

Another form of a learning disability has difficulty with reading decoding, a case where a student can't recognize a simple sentence. "They can't recognize the subject, or the verb, or any part of the sentence," Curl says. She also suggests that the most difficult part about the effects of disabilities in school is being able to participate in class. "When you're in high school you don't want people to know you can't read," she says.

Curl also talks about how not being diagnosed with a disability can affect the student psychologically. "Once a college student came home on his break and was tested for disabilities. When I told him he was severely dyslexic, he began to cry. The kid said, 'I wish someone had told me that, this whole time I thought I was stupid,'" says Curl.

Junior Eli Simon-Mishel, another Blazer with a minor learning disability, finds that, although he rarely has to use his accommodations, his classmates criticize him when he does get help. "When I take extra time on a test, my friends get annoyed because they had to turn in an unfinished test, while I get more time," Simon-Mishel says.

In spite of their disabilities, Ginsberg, Druhan and Simon-Mishel are all learning to cope in an environment as big as Blair. The three are accepted socially and have excelled academically, but they don't forget their situation.

"Dyslexia," Ginsberg says when asked what his disability is called. "But don't ask me how to spell it. I'm dyslexic, remember?"





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  • hm on November 7, 2005 at 5:46 PM
    Seems like a lot of these articles are about the same group of friends. You know to whom i am referring, that clique of 11th grade CAP kids and their best buds. Im not saying that these kids arent worthwhile interviewees, im just saying that itd be nice if you interviewed someone in another grade, someone you didnt know.


    Come on, you guys. Branch out a bit. Interview kids you wouldn’t normally talk to. I dont know if you’re being elitist or if you’re just uncomfortable talking to people you dont know. Either way, you're all journalists, so suck it up and go diversify your subjects.
  • annoying on November 7, 2005 at 6:00 PM
    good story except for the fact that the writer only used her friends as sources. why don't you deviate from the white junior middle class students and go talk to sparc or something?
  • Corrie Myers on November 8, 2005 at 3:44 PM
    I really enjoyed this article. It would have been nice if you could have found someone with Asperger's though.

    The way you wrote it, it shows that you really do know a lot about disabilities and are accepting of people who have them.

    Those were good statistics
  • agreed on November 8, 2005 at 7:00 PM
    like the others have said, i would have liked to see more diversity in the sources. Blair has a special Ed program with tons of kids who have disabilities. You really should try to branch out a bit. Other than that, good job
  • * on November 8, 2005 at 10:32 PM
    good article overall, but i think the writer should have branched out and talked about other disabilities. what about ADD? that's a really common one in Blair, one that would bring diversity to the writer's topic..
  • to on November 9, 2005 at 4:22 PM
    hop off us, kid
    07 run it
    yea d-block
  • ummm on November 10, 2005 at 7:25 PM
    eli is not disabled and if he claims to be, hes wrong. hahahah extra time.
  • alex on November 12, 2005 at 2:27 PM
    how would you know if eli is "disabled" or not? i don't really think that's something someone would lie about.

    good article, dev.
  • pedro morehead on November 14, 2005 at 10:32 PM
    ahhh more cappies in stories if your in cap dyslexia isnt tht big of an issue for you maybe find someone who actually struggles with a learning disability and give a little light to them... not a sermon just a thought
  • Max Lockwood on November 15, 2005 at 10:56 AM
    I second the first comment
  • 06 on November 15, 2005 at 4:31 PM
    i agree, lets stop writing articles about rich arrogant cap kids, and start looking for more people. i have no problem with articles about cap kids, but as long as there in proportion with the population of the school. plz
  • fdr on November 15, 2005 at 9:13 PM
    it's called canvasing and it's what you need to do if you dont want the SAME SOURCES in EVERY single story you write

    try it out sometime
  • helen on November 15, 2005 at 9:19 PM
    none of the three students mentioned are in cap or rich or arrogant so get over yourself, but i have to agree that more disabilities should have been covered other then that good job devon!!
  • w on November 16, 2005 at 10:28 PM
    none of the kids in this article are "cappies", they arent rich, and they arent arrogant. All three of them have serious learning disiblitys and didnt make it up for fun. Maybe Devon did only write about her friends, because maybe some kids are embarrass to come out and tell everyone whats wrong with them. and to Pedro Morehead, these kids do struggle with their learning disablilty everyday, so PLEASE do not say that they dont, becuase you have no clue who your even talking about.

    devon you did an amazing job and dont let any of these "arrogant" people make you feel like you did a bad job, the story was great, the comments are all wrong...
  • ... on November 17, 2005 at 4:40 PM
    have you ever tried canvasing the SAC asking, "hey! do you have a learning disability?" it might be a little harder than you all think. and as helen / w pointed out, none of these kids are "rich cappies," so why don't you get your facts straight first.
  • compie 25 on December 2, 2005 at 1:01 PM
    lol.. nice ending..
  • Jocelyn C. Gallant (View Email) on January 9, 2006 at 3:51 PM
    I am an adult who has a disability since Birth.

    I went to Laconia State School and Training Center at age 4 on October 27, 1956 and I lived in the community since November 13, 1979 at the age 27 and behound. When I was a little girl the staff attendents use to take me to their homes with them they use to take me to out to restaurants with them when I was a little then after a while they no longer wanted to contune the the friendships with me and I have lose many friends even till this day and I still loses so many friends today. I know from my experences of my life time ones the relations goes then it never comes back again, It's like the stock market goes up-goes-down that is the samething with relationships many of us with disabilities like myself. That's why I am so icelated and being unemploymend for many years because employers does not like to hire me because of my disabilities. Life was very difficult living in a state institution growing up in the 1950's, 1960's during my child, youth years not being given an opporturnities to a free public education.
  • bonnie a. curl (View Email) on November 6, 2006 at 5:20 PM
    Overall, good article but I wanted to correct a couple of "quotes": students who struggle to decode are the ones who trip over sounding out the words. So words are misread - more than the typical errors that everyone will make occasionally. This difficulty in sounding out/recognizing words can lead to difficulty in understanding the text - surprisingly (to me, at least) - some students who struggle to sound out words, almost painfully sometimes, can actually understand the text. On the other hand, students who struggle with reading comprehension are the ones who may struggle to make sense of the MEANING of text (and finding, at a minimum, the subject and the predicate of a sentence is one strategy for these students to derive basic meaning from what they are reading.)

    Sadly, many students who would benefit from help are not identified - and those who are, such as the college student referenced in this article, receive too little, much too late.

    These difficulties transcend academic programs, financial background, and overall intelligence - none of these are reliable markers for who is struggling. And, sometimes, it requires great courage to accept the help (i.e., accommodations) when peers do not "see" the disability. Without exception, the students I have worked with become more knowledgeable about their own learning processes - what works, what doesn't, and why. Important lessons learned by all of us but necessarily early lessons for those who struggle.
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