Our View: Pre-K education is key to helping students with disabilities

 

 

 

LeDerick Horne does not have to draw from reports, studies or other data in his role as an advocate for those with learning disabilities.  

 

The noted poet, author and motivational speaker can draw from his own experience. 

 

Horne was the keynote speaker Monday at Mississippi State University's Innovative Institute luncheon at The Mill at MSU. 

 

As a child, he would have made an unlikely candidate to represent those with learning disabilities, although he would have been a pretty good example of the issue. 

 

Horne struggled from the beginning of his education, having to repeat both the first and second grades before he was officially diagnosed with a learning disability as a third-grader. 

 

Horne found it difficult to read, write or do math and while the help he received allowed him to move through the school system and graduate high school, the burden of his disability was something he kept concealed. 

 

Although he learned to "act normal" he always felt as though he was leading a double life, carefully concealing the struggles he faced. He suffered from depression in high school, but emerged from it determined to earn a college degree, which he ultimately did, almost through force of will. 

 

The sad truth is that Horne may be more the exception than the rule, which is what has inspired him to advocate for kids with learning disabilities. 

 

Too often, when young children struggle with school, there is a strong temptation to attribute those struggles to outside influences - bad attitude, poor home environment, even teachers. 

 

But as it is with Horne, the causes are often due to learning disabilities, which are sometimes difficult to detect. 

 

No such ambiguity exists for children with physical disabilities. No one would suggest that a child in a wheelchair cannot walk because they lack motivation or character or proper instruction. 

 

But children with learning disabilities are often misunderstood and left undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed. 

 

When that happens, children often suffer in other ways, too -- low self-esteem, shame, frustration, anger -- that results in higher drop-out rates, drug use and criminal activity. 

 

It's never going to be easy for people with such disabilities. But it can be manageable and understood, which goes a long way in removing the stigma and shame of their struggles. 

 

Again, we go back to Pre-K education and its importance. The earlier a child is evaluated, diagnosed and accommodated, the less traumatic -- and more productive -- their educational journey will be. In Horne's case, for example, it might have required four years to get through 2nd grade.  

 

Right now, Mississippi's Pre-K program is big enough to serve just 5 percent of the state's 4-year-olds.  

 

For scores of children with undiagnosed learning disabilities, that means a painful entry into education, one that often does not have a happy ending. 

 

So we beat the drum again for Pre-K education.  

 

We must find a way to provide it to every child.

 

 

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