A guest post by Kim Murphy, Ph.D. in Education and M.Sc. in Speech-Language Pathology.
Last summer a parent contacted me, eager to find help for her son, Alex*, who was in Grade 8 and had trouble reading, spelling, and writing. Alex had previously received support at school. But now that he was getting decent grades, no one seemed concerned—except his parents, who saw how much he struggled and knew how much support they had to provide at home. His parents were eager to get him on track before he entered high school.
Alex’s mom had been given my name by a teacher who was familiar with my work before I moved away five years earlier. Reading is my specialty and I have worked with many kids like Alex. The mom tracked me down, hoping that I could help somehow; perhaps I knew someone to refer them to. I did not. But I was going back home for a vacation a few weeks later and offered to see Alex for an informal evaluation. Also, I had begun to use a brand new web-based therapy tool called Lexercise so maybe, I thought, I could do some therapy with him via the internet. Hmm.
I was hesitant but really wanted to help Alex. So, after our meeting, I proposed a plan to set him up on Lexercise for daily practice with his mom, whom I would train to be his coach as we went along, and Alex would have therapy with me whenever necessary via Skype. Alex’s mom jumped at this offer; she desperately wanted to help her son in any way she could.
That was the end of August and it is now the beginning of February, five months later. Alex has made tremendous progress. I saw him for a couple more traditional face-to-face therapy sessions in December when I was home again, but other than that everything has been accomplished over the internet. With his mom’s incredible support and effort, and the benefit of the Lexercise tool for daily practice, Alex has improved well beyond my expectations. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him! And of his mom, who spent so much time working with him. She wrote me a note to express her gratitude; it had me in tears.
During my most recent Skype session with Alex, I asked if his teachers had made any comments on his improved reading and spelling skills. Had they noticed? He said no, the only feedback he received recently was that he was applying himself more to his work, trying harder and seemed more motivated. They felt that he had “matured.” I asked Alex why he thought they were seeing these differences. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I just understand everything better now.” Wow! How powerful that is.
Of course Alex was applying himself more to his work and appearing more motivated. He could now read the material he was expected to learn! His mom added that “he has finally realized that reading can be pleasurable when you have the tools to help you.” Alex, who usually wears a teenage boy’s emotionless look, was grinning ear-to-ear during the entire session. He just couldn’t help himself. He was so proud.
So what started as a vague idea of how to help a boy many miles away has been a huge success. I am now even more excited about Lexercise and I can’t wait to help more kids who do not have the services they need in their area. This is the stuff that passion and drive are made of. I will never forget Alex’s smile that day, nor the pride and gratitude beaming from his mom.
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*Alex’s name and identifying traits have been changed to protect his privacy.
Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.