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10 Big Moments and Trends for Learning and Attention Issues in 2016


Happy New Year!  This article highlights Hollywood, the Olympics, and government.  They all addressed issues such as ADHD, working memory, dyslexia, etc.  My mom just had a head injury, and she IS Dory in “Finding Dory.”  It is amazing how a personal experience can enlighten even a seasoned educator, such as me, to learn more about learning issues.  Celebrate your child’s “differences.”  I know that the structure of school can be so difficult at times, but your kids will grow up to be amazing people!

2016 was a huge year for building awareness about learning and attention issues. Dyslexia research and training moved forward with a push from the outgoing Obama administration and from many local school districts. Olympians and filmmakers with ADHD and dyslexia scored big wins at the Rio Olympics and the Oscars. And a popular kids’ film introduced families to working memory issues.

Here’s a rundown of 10 big moments and trends for learning and attention issues in 2016.

  1. The president and Congress pushed for dyslexia research and awareness.

At the start of the year, President Obama signed the READ Act. This law dedicated $5 million to fund research into dyslexia and other learning issues. Then, in May, the U.S. Senate held a remarkable hearing on dyslexia.

Senators listened to testimony from top researchers, as well as from people impacted by dyslexia like actor Ameer Baraka and superlawyer David Boies. Many senators were moved by Understood parent advocate April Hanrath, who shared the story of her daughter’s dyslexia. “Dyslexia is important to Congress, and it’s important to the nation,” declared Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).

  1. A filmmaker with ADHD won the Oscar for Best Director.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director for The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Iñárritu, who grew up in Mexico, has credited his ADHD for influencing how he makes films.

  1. Finding Doryintroduced families to working memory issues.

Hollywood films also dived deeper. Finding Dory, the long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemoexplored challenges related to ADHD, working memory and parenting. Understood held a live video conversation about the film with expert Bob Cunningham and Beth Jacobsen, a young adult who struggles with working memory. With Finding Dory, Disney Pixar built on the success of last year’s film, Inside Out, which explored emotions and self-control.

  1. Olympians with ADHD and dyslexia took gold in Rio.

Simone Biles won four gold medals for the U.S. in gymnastics at the 2016 Rio Olympics—and charmed the world in the process. After the games, she shared that she has ADHD and told the world that ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of.

Her fellow Olympian Michelle Carter won gold in the shot put. The self-proclaimed “Shot Diva” has ADHD and dyslexia, and she has volunteered much of her time to inspire kids to reach their dreams.

And we can’t forget swimmer Michael Phelps, who won six medals in Rio. Phelps, who has ADHD, is now the most decorated Olympian of all time. Find out how trouble with focus helped Phelps reach for gold.

  1. Texas special education policy got a critical look.

Not all the big moments of 2016 were positive. A story by the Houston Chronicle about Texas policy on special education got a lot of negative attention around the country. According to the report, Texas education officials have been pressuring schools to keep students out of special education.

In response, advocacy groups like Understood founding partners the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the Parents Education Network are investigating. Some are concerned that similar policies could exist in other states.

  1. Being Youspoke to young adults with learning and attention issues.

In June, Understood partner Roadtrip Nation released a new documentary called Being You. The film follows three young people with learning and attention issues on a cross-country road trip. The trio talk to diverse leaders, like entertainer Howie Mandel, Eye to Eye founder David Flink and poet LeDerick Horne. Screenings of Being You are happening across the country, and the film is being used to educate and inspire youth.

  1. Work on kids’ education rights continued.

Another important trend in 2016 was the continued work on education rights for kids with learning and attention issues. The U.S. Department of Education released several guidance letters outlining rights to special education in charter schools, behavioral supports and ADHD evaluations. And policymakers in Washington, DC, continued to consider the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind.

  1. New state dyslexia laws prompted schools to act.

In past years, dozens of states passed dyslexia laws. 2016 saw these laws start to have an effect in schools, by encouraging training and intervention on dyslexia. An example is the small school district of Berryville in Arkansas, which recently trained its grade school teachers in an Orton–Gillingham program.

  1. Affordable assistive technology gained traction.

Assistive technology (AT) was once limited to special computer software. But in 2016, we saw the growing trend of AT being offered inexpensively in other ways, including through mobile apps and Chrome tools.

Families of kids with learning and attention issues also got involved. Inspired by their son’s struggle with math, a husband-and-wife team in California developed the hugely popular ModMath app. And a tech-savvy teen in Virginia earned praise for his work to train teachers in his school on AT.

  1. Understood held forums in four states.

Throughout 2016, Understood held forums in four states—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. These grassroots events brought together parents, educators and caring adults to raise awareness about the 1 in 5 with learning and attention issues.

Understood also launched a new public service announcement campaign called “Two Sides.” The campaign, available in both English and Spanish, is a national media effort in all 50 states to raise awareness.

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